Georgian Downs fans will get their first glimpse of Gold this Saturday as the province's top 3-year-old competitors show up in hopes of earning a return invitation to the following week's exciting Gold Rush event. Among the starters will be the trotting colt Prestidigitator, who will be making his second start of the season, going to the gate in race
The 3-year-old trotting colt Il Mago is among the favorites to capture a Gold Elimination trophy on Saturday after sweeping the season opener in May, but owner-breeder Chris Alexander has been around the racetrack long enough to be wary of predictions.
"I think there are a lot of nice horses this year,” noted Alexander. "Mikey Hanover raced well in the Goodtimes, now Prestidigitator's back, and the horse that we beat in London, Cold Certified, is a nice horse. So I think you've basically got to bring your dance shoes, you've got to be on your toes, no one's going to hand you nothing.
"We have a lot of respect for our competition, we don't think that there's a dominant horse right now.”
Alexander shares ownership of Il Mago with Mark Harder and admits the partners were disappointed when the Kadabra colt finished tenth in the $351,000 Goodtimes Final at Mohawk Racetrack on June 16 after a thrilling third-place finish in the elimination one week earlier. The trotter experienced what is commonly known as choking down, or dorsal displacement of the soft palate, but Alexander says trainer Rod Boyd has worked hard to ensure everything has healed, and the colt should be back in top form for Saturday's test.
A Gold Final winner at two, Il Mago has already achieved far more than Alexander imagined possible when the colt's mother died less than 48 hours after giving birth in April 2009. The youngster was saved by the generosity of Jim and Betty Ross, who loaned Alexander their mare Barbara Seelster after her foal died at birth.
The Ross' were present for Il Mago's Gold elimination and Gold Final wins at the Western Fair District in May, and Alexander says it was incredible to be able to share the colt's success with the people who played such a large part in making it possible.
"I know how thrilled I was last year that we won a Gold. With everything we went through it made it that much more precious, and then here we go this year, and we come out like gangbusters, and the people that gave us the nurse mare, they were there for both races,” Alexander recalls. "That was… I was almost in tears. It was really cool that the Ross's were there, and they met my family for the first time. It's almost like, you thought last year was good, and this year is even better.”
Il Mago and driver Trevor Ritchie will aim for a their second Gold Elimination win of the season from Post 6 in the fifth race on Saturday, facing off against Cold Certified from post 1. The other 3-year-old trotting colt elimination is slated as race 7.
Piston Broke has the same post (six) and early odds (7-2) as Il Mago, but unlike his trotting counterpart the 3-year-old pacing gelding will make his Gold Series debut at Georgian Downs on Saturday. The son of Shark Gesture made two starts in the Grassroots program last season — winning one and finishing sixth in the other — but Saturday's test will be his first against the division's big guns.
"Last year he raced good up in Georgian and then I took him to Rideau Carleton and he was just absolutely terrible, come home couldn't really find out what was wrong with him and so I quit with him,” recalls trainer Rob Fellows of the gelding's abbreviated freshman stakes campaign. "It was hot, the weather was bad, I don't know, I had no idea, maybe he was just too immature. So we brought him back in the winter time and raced him and he raced right through a couple series' and then I give him time off.”
After a three month hiatus, Piston Broke returned to action last November and competed in the Autumn, Snowshoe, Youthful and Diplomat Series' at Woodbine Racetrack, winning the Youthful Final and banking $137,310 for Rockwood resident Fellows, Arpad Szabo of Bradford and Willard Sabrosky of Madison Heights, MI. After the Diplomat Final, which saw Piston Broke finish third by a neck, Fellows gave the colt a well earned vacation and started to eye up the Gold Series colts.
"The best two have the inside two posts,” says the horseman of Upper Canada Cup winner Michaels Power, who gets post 1, and Somebeachsomewhere division winner Secretsoftheknight, who will start from post 2.
"You've got to meet them later too,” adds Fellows philosophically. "Hopefully my horse can stay sound all season, participate in all of them and hopefully get enough points, and if he's still healthy and good when they go in the fall then sometimes it's survival of the fittest, not who is the best in any particular race.”
Piston Broke will start from post 6 in the first pacing colt elimination, slated as Race 8, while the other division goes postward as Race 10.
Fellows will also start a hopeful in the 3-year-old trotting filly contest, but the trainer says Elin will have to prove she belongs among the province's elite.
"She's one, I don't know if she's going to be good enough to be a Gold filly, but we thought we'd try the first Gold,” he explains. "Hopefully she can put in a good effort. We've just got to beat a few to hopefully get in the final, and it is an open draw, which I like.”
Fellows conditions Elin for SSG Stables of North Boston, NY and will send the Angus Hall daughter after a share of the $40,000 Gold Elimination purse from post 8 in the eleventh race. The other trotting fillies will compete in Race 9.
The 3-year-old pacing fillies will kick the Gold Series action off in Race 3 on Saturday evening, with their second elimination slated as Race 6.
The top four finishers from each elimination, plus one fourth-place finisher per division, will earn a spot on the starting gate in next week's $130,000 Gold Finals, part of Georgian Downs' hotly anticipated Gold Rush program. Post time for this week's elimination round is 6 pm. (Ontario Sires Stakes)