07/30/2016 10:20AM

Henson has two top contenders for Pacific Customs Brokers Classic Handicap

Four-Footed Fotos
Modern wins the John Longden 6000 on June 4.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – When B.C. Cup Day was envisioned by then-Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society director Bobby Jawl, the goal was to feature British Columbia-breds. The inaugural B.C. Cup Day in 1995 was a huge success, and the five stakes races featured full fields made up of B.C.-breds only.

Times have changed, though, and with a declining local breeding industry, some of the races were modified to include B.C.-owned horses. Headlining Monday’s B.C. Cup Day card is the $75,000 Pacific Customs Brokers Classic Handicap, and the seven horses entered in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up were bred outside of the province. Post time for the Classic is 5:20 p.m. Pacific.

The first of seven stakes on the card is the second race, the $75,000 Pacific Customs Brokers Distaff Handicap, and the last is the ninth and final race on the card, the $20,000 Starter Handicap. Traditionally not a stakes race, this will be the first time owners will have to shell out nomination and starting fees to run in the 1 3/8-mile Starter Handicap.

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Last year, the Classic was sponsored by Peter Redekop and was worth $100,000. Trainer Steve Henson won the race with Square Dancer. In a thriller, Square Dancer got up in the last jump to edge Modern by a nose. Square Dancer is back to defend his title, but his stablemate, Don’t Hold Me Back, appears to have the better chance.

Don’t Hold Me Back won the $75,000 Lieutenant Governors’ Handicap on July 1, and he easily handled Square Dancer when they worked together July 23.

“It was a good move for both of them, and it would have been a better one for Square Dancer if there wasn’t a horse pulling up in front of him,” said Henson. “They are both dressed up and ready to go.”

Square Dancer, owned by the 300 members of the Hastings Racing Club, hasn’t won since he beat Dontmesswithkitten by a nose in the $50,000 S.W. Randall Plate last Sept. 13. Henson hasn’t given up on him, though.

“I expect Square Dancer to rebound really well, and the other horse is a monster right now,” he said. “Don’t Hold Me Back has just really improved as a 4-year-old.”

Don’t Hold Me Back has good tactical speed and should get a nice trip from a forward position after he breaks from the rail with Silvino Morales retaining the mount.

The horse they will have to catch is Modern, and he could be tough to run down as the only pure speed in the field. That wasn’t the case in the Lieutenant Governors’ Handicap, where he dueled with Crackdown through sprint-like fractions in the 1 1/16-mile race. Crackdown folded his tent early, but Modern held on to finish a gutsy third.

Prior to that loss, Modern won the three previous stakes for older horses at the meet for trainer Dino Condilenios.

With David Lopez aboard, Highway Boss rallied to finish second in the Lieutenant Governors’ Handicap. He is an obvious contender but will be an underlay with two-time Kentucky Derby winner Mario Gutierrez riding.

Arabella’s Muse will be a heavy favorite to win the Distaff for the second straight year for trainer Mike Anderson. Last year, the race was named the Pegasus Distaff. Monday’s 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares bred or owned in British Columbia drew five horses.

Arabella’s Muse looked like she might be in trouble when she broke a step slowly in the $75,000 Monashee on July 1, but she settled nicely, and when leading rider Richard Hamel asked her for run approaching the six-furlong mark, she quickly opened up on the field in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Arabella’s Muse used to be hard to rate, not only in her races but in the mornings as well.

“She has really matured,” said Anderson. “She used to get pretty wound up, and we could never train her without a pony before. Now, she’s happy to be out there on her own.”

With a record of 5-1-0 from six starts going 1 1/16 miles, it is hard to take a stand against her.

Touching Promise, trained by Anderson’s sister, Barbara Heads, is the main threat. She can be a handful when she gets her head in front, and she could be the controlling speed with Amadeo Perez aboard. Perez rode her to wins going 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Ballerina in 2014 and 2015. They also teamed up to win the nine-furlong B.C. Cup Distaff last August after finishing third in the Pegasus earlier in the month.

This year, the $50,000 B.C. Cup Distaff and the $50,000 B.C. Cup Classic are restricted to horses bred or sired in British Columbia or Washington state. They will headline the closing-day card Oct. 16.