04/30/2014 6:06PM

Canadian Derby main attraction at Northlands

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The 2014 Alberta racing season begins Friday with an eight-race card at Northlands Park. First post time is 6:30 p.m. Mountain.

The highlight of the season is Canadian Derby Day, Aug. 16. The Grade 3, $200,000 Canadian Derby is the richest race in western Canada, and it is by far the biggest day in terms of handle and attendance at Northlands. Last year, the $1,160,650 wagered marked the only day at Northlands where the handle surpassed $1 million.

Supporting the 1 3/8-mile Canadian Derby are the $50,000 Sonoma for 3-year-old fillies and the $50,000 Westerner for 3-year-olds and up.

The second-richest race at Northlands is the $100,000 Speed to Spare for 3-year-olds and up. The 1 3/8-mile stakes is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 1.

Fall Classic Day, featuring seven Alberta-bred stakes races, will be held Sept. 20.

The opening day card features eight sprints.

Twilightinpriddis looks like the one to beat in a $12,500 claiming race for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs that will serve as the opening-day feature.

Trained by Robertino Diodoro, Twilightinpriddis is coming off a fourth-place finish in an optional $16,000 claiming race at Turf Paradise on March 29. She’s racing fit and adding to her appeal is the presence of Rico Walcott, who dominated the jockey standings at Northlands last year. Walcott is off to another strong season, winning two races at Hastings last Sunday, including the $50,000 George Royal aboard Title Contender.

Time for a Memory and Ihavetogo look like the main threats.

 

Partly due to a brutal winter in northern Alberta that made it difficult for local horsemen to train their horses, five of the races were shortened to 3 1/2 furlongs.

“I was hoping for a few more horses to be ready and not having to shorten races,” said racing secretary Jason Teague. “It should get better moving forward, though.”

Despite the slow start, Northlands venue manager Chris Roberts is optimistic about the meet and the future of horse racing in Alberta.

“We’re offering a pick five every day with a 10 percent takeout, the lowest in the industry,” said Roberts. “It will also be carried over 100 percent if nobody hits it.”

Roberts is upbeat about the future due to the possibility of a new track opening this year in Balzac, a suburb of Calgary. Century Downs is reportedly due to open this winter with a Standardbred meet. Thoroughbreds could be running there next spring.

“The main thing is there will be slot revenue coming from southern Alberta for the first time in six years,” said Roberts.

There is roughly $325,000 less purse money available than was budgeted. Management at Northlands and the Alberta Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association met last Monday but didn’t come to an agreement on how to resolve the problem.

The actual shortage is $1.1 million, but according to Mat Monaco, executive director of the Alberta HBPA, his organization will kick in $800,000 toward purses.

“We saw this coming, so we built up a rainy-day fund, and it is currently pouring,” said Monaco.