Manitoba-bred mare Escape Clause continued to write her Cinderella story with a game second-place finish to Midnight Bisou in the $750,000 Apple Blossom Stakes (Grade 1) at Oaklawn Park on April 14, and four days later she was named the 2018 Champion Older Mare in Canada at the 44th annual Sovereign Awards.

What will she do for an encore?

The clubhouse crowds at both Turf Paradise and Assiniboia Downs were loud and rocking when Escape Clause turned for home in the Apple Blossom with a short lead on Midnight Bisou. They got even rowdier when Escape Clause came back at her rival late after being headed with 100 yards to go. At the wire it was much too close to call. A head bob would be a stretch. These two gamers could have gone another sixteenth of a mile in photo-finish land, with the winner being decided by a coin toss.

“She thought she won it,” said trainer Don Schnell, who also owns Escape Clause in partnership with Barry Arnason and True North. “And she could have run back and won the last race that night. She’s really good right now. The plan is to run her until the fall and then sell her. They said here in Turf Paradise (where Escape Clause has been based over the winter) that there were hundreds of people watching that were there just to see her run.

“They said they’d never seen it so loud, that everybody was cheering and yelling and screaming. A buddy of mine told me that even the people who don’t like me were cheering for her, and then another buddy of mine laughed and said, ‘Yeah, that was the whole grandstand.’ I’ve never had so many congratulatory messages for running second.”

Now five, Escape Clause spent the first two years of her career primarily at Assiniboia Downs, winning stakes and finishing second in the Manitoba Derby. She also set a new track record at Century Downs for 6 ½-furlongs late in her 3-year-old season before venturing south for a well-earned try against better fillies and mares in the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks, but finished seventh after getting trapped inside on a deep rail.

After a five-month layoff Escape Clause finished third in the L’Etoile du Nord Stakes in her first start as a 4-year-old. She followed that up with a second-place finish in an allowance race at Canterbury, before going on an amazing nine-race win streak that included seven stakes wins in a row at five different tracks and culminated with a victory in her first try on the turf in the $75,000 Kathryn Crosby Stakes at Del Mar. She was awarded the win in the Crosby after being legitimately bothered in the stretch, but more importantly, she proved she could run with the better horses.

Escape Clause finished in a dead heat for third on the turf in the Red Carpet Handicap (Grade 3) at Del Mar in her next race, when a longshot lone speeder stole the race. She then finished fourth after a very troubled trip in the Robert J. Frankel Stakes (Grade 3) at Santa Anita, again on the turf. Tearing the barn down after that race, Escape Clause won the first graded stakes of her career 12 days later as a 5-year-old, winning the La Canada Stakes (Grade 3) on the dirt at Santa Anita.

She then finished a willing fourth on the dirt in the Santa Monica Stakes (Grade 2) at Santa Anita before delivering a scintillating performance in the $100,000 Holly Hughes Stakes at Sunland Park, winning by 7 ¼-lengths and setting a new track record of 1:34 for a mile on the dirt while being eased up at the wire. That race set her up perfectly for her big run in the Apple Blossom, in which she defeated fellow Sovereign Award and Queen’s Plate winner Wonder Gadot and multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Elate.

It’s been an amazing run for the 5-year-old daughter of Going Commando—Danger Pay by Circulating, who was purchased for just $5,000 at the 2015 Manitoba CTHS Yearling Sale. Bred by Cam Ziprick and Barry Arnason, her record now stands at 20-4-3 from 31 starts for Official Equibase earnings of $645,000 and she’s now being considered for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Grade 1).

“I liked her when she was a baby,” said Ziprick. “But this is really something. Man, if they can keep her right until November she’ll be going to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Danger Pay, the dam of Escape Clause, is owned by Ziprick, Arnason and Charlie Fouillard and she has already been bred back to Escape Clause’s sire Going Commando. The trio also have a yearling full-sister to Escape Clause.

“The yearling could end up in a Keeneland Sale,” said Ziprick. “And Barry (Arnason) has already been approached to put Escape Clause in the fall Fasig-Tipton sale that attracts the elite broodmares. He also told me they were shipping me a trophy for Escape Clause’s Sovereign Award, as the co-breeder. I didn’t even know about it. That’s the best trophy we’ve ever won.”

There’s a possibility Escape Clause could show up at Assiniboia Downs this summer for a short break while her team plots a potential path to the Breeders’ Cup.

“I’d like to give her a little bit of time off at some point,” said Schnell. “And Winnipeg would be the perfect place. She feels at home there. We still have to map out the races that she’s going to go to. We’d like to get one of these win-and-your-in (Breeders’ Cup) races. There’s a race at Delaware that we’re thinking of, but that’s not until July. Tyler Baze told me at dinner that she’s unquestionably the best horse he’s ever ridden in his life, and he’s won over 20 graded stakes and been on some very good horses.”

An appearance by Escape Clause at Assiniboia Downs would most certainly give a positive boost to local breeders, who have already had their restricted stakes purses raised to $30,000 with the exception of the CTHS Sales Stakes, which is now $35,000. This is on top of the new and lucrative adjusted purse schedule for all runners in 2019 at Assiniboia Downs.

There’s just something special about being around a good horse. In this case, the best Manitoba-bred, ever.

And we all know it.

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