08/27/2012 2:45PM

Northlands Park: Petrowski barn getting better in twilight years

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Last Sunday’s Grade 3 Canadian Derby was one of the most exciting renewals of the premier race in Alberta. Toccetive, Dougs Buddy, and heavily favored Devil in Disguise hooked up at the top of the stretch, and it was still anyone’s race inside the sixteenth pole. Toccetive eventually wore down Dougs Buddy to win by a half-length with Devil in Disguise another half-length behind at the finish of 1 3/8-mile marathon.

Trainer Joan Petrowski wasn’t sure who to cheer for. She trains Toccetive and Dougs Buddy.

“I was watching Dougs Buddy and was hoping he was going to get there, and all of a sudden I saw a horse moving on his outside and it was Toccetive,” said Petrowski. “I was kind of half in shock. They both ran great races, and it’s just too bad it wasn’t a dead heat. I blame it on the photo-finish guy. He just snapped the camera at the wrong moment.”

There was a bumping incident at the top of the stretch when Dougs Buddy, who was ridden by Stephen Heiler, drifted out into Toccetive. Jorge Carreno aboard Toccetive was going to claim foul if he hadn’t won the race.

Petrowski was pretty happy it all worked out.

“What if Devil in Disguise finished second behind Dougs Buddy,” she said. “It could have been a nightmare.”

Both horses came out of the race in good shape but were a little tired. Petrowski wasn’t sure when they would start next. She didn’t completely rule out the Grade 3, $200,000 British Columbia Derby at Hastings on Sept. 9.

“They are both doing fine, but I don’t know if they’ll bounce back in time to run in the B.C. Derby,” she said. “It’s a bit too close. If it was three weeks or a month away it would be a lot more attractive.”

Petrowski, 69, doesn’t know how much longer she is going to continue training horses. She seems to be peaking in the twilight of her career, though. Last year she was the leading trainer at Northlands for the first time in her career, and it will be tough top her one-two finish in the Canadian Derby.

She currently has roughly 40 horses in training.

“I am still going strong, but right now I am just taking it one day at a time,” said Petrowski. “I still love the horses, but I’ve been doing it for a long time. I am not quitting tomorrow but I am getting on in age, so we’ll see what happens.”

Petrowski had experience with horses growing up on a farm near Viking, Alberta. She was looking at a career as an accountant before she got involved with Thoroughbreds.

“After I graduated college I was working in the accounting department for a lumber company in the early 1970’s and one of my friends there liked to gamble and go to the races,” she said. “He was a friend of Eddie Johnson, who was a trainer, and Eddie talked him into buying a horse nobody wanted. I bought into the horse and one thing led to another. Pretty soon we started going to the sales and buying yearlings.”

Petrowski enjoyed coming to the barn and eventually gravitated to training. According to Daily Racing Form statistics, she has won 916 races. Alongside her for all of her wins has been groom Jeff Watt, who started working for her when he was 15.

“He’s been a big part of it,” said Petrowski. “He was with me at the track for a long time, but now he takes care of the horses at the farm.”

Petrowski’s favorite horse is Footprint, who won the 2007 Canadian Derby. He was pulled up in the $50,000 Westerner in the race before the derby. Petrowski had talked about “going out with Footprint” when he was finished racing. He and she aren’t done yet, though.

“He just bled a little,” she said. “He will be fine and hopefully I’ll get him back to the races before the year is over. He’s been pretty special to me.”

Owner Glen Todd said Devil in Disguise came out of the race in good shape and would probably run in the B.C. Derby. He was ridden by Mario Gutierrez.

“He just didn’t run his race,” said Todd. “Mario said he never really picked up the bit. He washed out on parade and then he didn’t want to load. He is back at Hastings and he seems to be fine.”

Todd said Commander, who romped in the Westerner, is back at Hastings and being pointed to the $50,000 Randall Plate, which is one of the five supporting stakes on the B.C. Derby card.

◗ According to trainer Dave Forster, Madeira Park and Heidi Maria came out dominating undercard wins in great shape and could be part of the B.C Derby festivities. Madeira Park won the $50,000 Sonoma by 8 1/4 lengths and is a possibility for the $100,000 British Columbia Oaks. Heidi Maria won the $75,000 City of Edmonton Distaff for fillies and mares by 7 1/4 lengths and could come back in the $50,000 Delta Coleen. Both were ridden by Richard Hamel.

◗ The handle for the 13-race Canadian Derby card was $1,134,004, a 6.5 percent increase over last year’s handle of $1,064,438 for a 14-race card. Overall the handle at Northlands is up more than 15 percent this year.