The surprise of Saturday’s Journal Handicap was clear enough: the lacklustre, fourth-place finish of odds-on-favourite Killin Me Smalls.
What was no surprise, however, was the resplendid showing of the winner: California invader Annie’s Candy, a convincing wire-to-wire, open length victor, who got The Journal’s six furlongs in 1:09 1/5 which is just three-fifths of a second off of Northlands track record.
“The other night I watched the replays of all his races,” said Monica Russell, who trains Annie’s Candy for B.C. owner Peter Redekop. “To say the least I was impressed.”
But then who wouldn’t be?
You can start with the $40,000 claiming race where Redekop astutely haltered the four-year-old at Santa Anita, California.
Or you can take the allowance race he won at Del Mar, California.
But dig a little deeper and it’s very plain to see why Annie’s Candy was full value for his win in The Journal.
Two years ago, also at Santa Anita, Annie’s Candy was good enough to run second – beaten just a head – by Nyquist, a horse who not only won last year’s Kentucky Derby but also took the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Just as impressive is that it was Annie’s Candy – not Nyquist – who was the favourite that day.
Showing that was no fluke, Annie’s Candy also ran third to Nyquist in the $200,000 Best Pal stakes at Del Mar.
“When you talk about Nyquist you are talking about a whole different kind of horse,” said Russell.
Exiting a second-place finish at Hastings Park in Vancouver , Annie’s Candy had prepped for The Journal extremely well.
“A week ago I had Rico (jockey Walcott) work him four furlongs and he went in :47 1/5. I actually had him going in 47 seconds flat and then galloping out five-eights of a mile in :59 4/5.
“The horse held Rico up in the tack the whole way. It was pretty to watch.
“So, oh yeah, it was no surprise to see him win The Journal,” Russell said of the 5-2 second favourite, who returned an even $7.00 to win.
Walcott, who was also aboard for The Journal, said Annie’s Candy did it almost all on his own despite being pressured by Hold The Giant, who would hang on for second, and – from three deep – Our Dandy’s Boy as the fractions went in :22 4/5 and :45 1/5.
“The second quarter I was able to give him a little bit of a breather,” said Walcott, perennially Alberta’s leading jockey.
“I was surprised when we broke that I didn’t have Killin Me Smalls inside of me. I was glad to be able to get to the rail and (Killin Me Smalls) wasn’t there.
“He settled on the bit the whole way and then he was strong down the lane,”
Walcott said of Annie’s Candy’s final quarter mile of a very fast 24 seconds flat.
That was the complete antithesis to Killin Me Smalls, who had never been defeated in five previous starts going six furlongs at Northlands and who has been named Alberta’s Champion Sprinter and Aged Horse of the Year the last two years in a row.
“He wouldn’t pick up the bit at all,” said Killin Me Smalls jockey, Keishan Balgobin. “I asked him several times but he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t try. He was not himself.”
After the race and back at his barn Killin Me Smalls had a trickle of blood running down his left hind ankle from where there were several puncture wounds.
How that happened no one is quite sure.
“Maybe he got hit and got thrown off balance somewhere,” said Killin Me Smalls trainer Ernie Keller.
“Sometimes that’s enough to cause a horse to lose. But I really don’t know.
“I do however know that was one fast bloody race.”
Russell doesn’t know what the future holds for Annie’s Candy.
“I’m just thankful that Mr. Redekop and Bryan Anderson – Mr. Redekop’s race manager – sent him to me for this race.
“Obviously I hope he stays here. But who knows.
“Annie’s Candy is a doll to be around. He’s a real professional.”
STOCK REPORT – In Saturday’s co-feature Trooper John won the $50,000 Western Canada for three-year-olds in a blanket three-horse photo.
Ridden by Balgobin, Trooper John came in between the Bar No Q and pace setting favourite Rock Victor to win by half a length over Bar No Q with Rock Victor a nose back in third.
“We’ve always had plans for this horse,” said Trooper John’s co-owner Norm Castiglione. “Whether it’s the Canadian Derby or something else.
The Western Canada went in 1:10 flat for six furlongs.
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