05/04/2017 8:50AM

Northlands kicks off transitional meeting

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A changed landscape in the local racing industry means the live racing season in Alberta will start in Edmonton at Northlands Park on Saturday and finish at the recently built Century Downs on Nov. 5.

Century Downs, located in Balzac, a suburb of Calgary, has been conducting Standardbred racing since 2015. This fall’s meet will be the first time Thoroughbreds will race in the Calgary area since the last meet at Stampede Park in 2008. Century Downs will have a 14-day meet beginning Sept. 22.

“We’re ready for the Thoroughbreds this fall,” said Century Downs general manager Paul Ryneveld. “We are going to put out the condition book in the next couple of weeks so horsemen can see what kind of horses to bring.”

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With Century Mile, a one-mile track being built near the Edmonton airport, slated to open in July next year, this likely will be the last full meet at Northlands.

The 53-day Northlands meet was supposed to start Friday and run through Sept. 16. But due to poor weather conditions in northern Alberta this winter and spring, not enough horses were ready to fill two cards this weekend. Instead, there will be 10 races Saturday. All nine races for Thoroughbreds will be contested at 3 1/2 furlongs.

Kicking off the meet at 1 p.m. Mountain is the $20,000 Northland Markel Bonus Stakes for Quarter Horses. The best Thoroughbred race is the third race, where the top 3-year-old filly at Northlands last year, Onestaratatime, makes her 4-year-old debut in a $35,000 optional-claiming race.

Onestaratatime is trained by Greg Tracy and will be ridden by Rico Walcott. Tracy and Walcott have dominated their peers at Northlands the past few years.

Ryneveld is overseeing the construction of the new facility, and neither he nor anyone else is guaranteeing it will be built on schedule. According to Northlands general manager Scott Sinclair, negotiations are ongoing regarding next year’s schedule.

“There will be some kind of meet here in 2018,” said Sinclair. “It just depends on when the new track will be ready. This year, we are really going to focus on the history of racing at Northlands. The track opened in 1951, and there are a lot of positive memories. Obviously, there will be a big party for the Canadian Derby.”

It will almost certainly be the final Canadian Derby at Northlands. The Grade 3, $150,000 Canadian Derby is the only graded race in Alberta. Canadian Derby Day, scheduled for Aug. 19, is easily the biggest day of the year at Northlands. The winner of the recent Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, Inside Straight, finished fourth behind winner Ready Intrigue in the 1 3/8-mile race last year.

Racing will be conducted on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays until June 7, when Wednesdays are added. Post time for Saturday and holidays is 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays begin at 6:30 p.m. There is a special noon post time for the Canadian Derby card. There is a 6:30 post time for the only Thursday card, July 20.

The meet closes with Fall Classic Day, headlined by the $50,000 Breeders’ Handicap for 3-year-olds and up and six other stakes restricted to Alberta-breds.

The richest race of the meet for 3-year-olds and up is the $75,000 Speed to Spare on Sept. 2.