$5,000 (Can) Manitoba yearling sale purchase Escape Clause wins Grade 3 in California

with files from Santa Anita media

You could almost envision the clinking of glasses, high fives and  chicken wings raised in honour of Escape Clause in the Clubhouse lounge at Assiniboia Downs Saturday night. Manitoba’s racetrack has year-round simulcasting and at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Winnipeg-time, the province’s darling of the track, ESCAPE CLAUSE scampered away to a 5 1/2 length in the Grade 3  La Canada Stakes.

Escape Clause already has accomplished something that escapes most horses: winning 19 races, done in a career of 28 starts.

The five-year-old mare bred in Manitoba, Canada, captured Saturday’s Grade III La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita by 5 ½ lengths under Tyler Baze for owner/trainer Don Schnell and thus cemented her standing as one of the biggest Cinderella stories in recent years.

By Going Commando-Danger Pay, Escape Clause is believed to be the first Manitoba-bred stakes winner in Santa Anita history. She covered a mile and one sixteenth on a wet-fast track in 1:41.89.

“She came out of the race great and we’re looking to run here in either the Buena Vista or the Beholder Mile,” Schnell said Sunday.

The Buena Vista is a Grade II, $200,000 event at a mile on turf Feb. 23, while the Beholder is a Grade I on the main track worth $400,000 March 16. “We want to run her back here at Santa Anita; we’ll just have to figure out which race.

“She was just built like a horse that was gonna grow up and hopefully be something,” Schnell said in reference to buying Escape Clause as a youngster. “I used to say anytime I got a good horse, I’d like to come to Santa Anita and win a race . . . and I’m glad I did now.”

With the $60,000 earned in the La Canada, her first graded stakes win, Escape Clause increased her career earnings to $423,500.

The Great escape
By George Williams for Winnipeg Free Press

Manitoba’s superstar mare Escape Clause made a bullet move in the US$100,000 La Canada Stakes-G3 on Saturday to become what is believed to be the first Manitoba-bred in history to win a graded stakes race at Santa Anita Park in southern California.

The La Canada was the first graded stakes win for the five-year-old mare bred in Russell by Cam Ziprick and Arnason Farms, and her 19th win overall from 28 starts, including 17 stakes victories. Purchased for just US$5,000 at the local Manitoba CTHS Yearling Sale in 2015, the US$60,000 winner’s share of the La Canada purse boosted Escape Clause’s official Equibase earnings to US$423,500.

Owned and trained by Don Schnell, Escape Clause was sent off as the heavy favourite in the six-horse field, but surprised even hardcore horseplayers and new jockey Tyler Baze with a bullet move on the turn that shot her to the lead over the wet-fast Santa Anita dirt strip.

JERRY LAVIGNE  (January 10, 1929 – January 4, 2019)

with files from Tom Cosgrove:

Longtime Woodbine Thoroughbred trainer J.G. (Jerry) Lavigne passed away peacefully on January 4, just six days before his 90th birthday.

After retiring earlier as a jockey, Lavigne’s training career began in 1958 but it wasn’t until the decade of the 70’s that his brilliance finally shone through.

In fact, it was 1970 when he saddled the first of his two Queen’s Plate winners with Almoner, the first of four winning Q.P. rides for jockey Sandy Hawley.

The following year, Lavigne’s 32-1 longshot Fabe Count ran second to the great Kennedy Road in the Plate. Fabe Count would go on to become a multiple stakes winner over a four-year span at nine different distances over turf and dirt!

Nice Dancer is historically viewed as Canadian Champion three-year-old male of 1972; pre-Sovereign Award era. Lavigne trained him for all six of his stakes victories including the Breeders’ Stakes.

He was back for more in 1974, racing Windfields Farm’s Police Car as favourite for the Plate. However, the horse finished fourth when the track came up “muddy,” a surface he detested.

Son of Briartic was Lavigne’s second Plate winner in 1982.

The E P Taylor bred, owned by Dave Kapchinsky, popped a splint a week before the Plate but Lavigne and his team. went to work to get the colt ready for the big race. In the Plate, he defeated Runaway Groom, who later won the Travers Stakes at Saratoga that same year.

Other notable stakes winners were filly turf star Lost Majorette, outstanding sprinter Park Romeo, Bejilla, Cheap Seats, Boulder Run, owned by Ben Hutzel, No Reasoning, Old Gun Powder, Gore Park, I Can’t Believe, Fabiusand, Dancer’s Bo Jin, Northern Regent, and Mr. Showbiz.

With the exception of Police Car, all of the above stakes horses were purchased privately or at auction by Mr. Lavigne; an unbelievable accomplishment.

When asked which was the best horse he had, Lavigne had given an astonishing reply: “That would be Powerful Canadian.

“He was a colt sired by Canadian Champ that I bought at the 1968 yearling sale for Mike Starko, from Edmonton.

“The colt was a tough, good-looking son of gun but he broke a coffin bone in his foot as a three-year-old getting ready for the (1970) Plate.”

Bad news for the owner but it didn’t stop Lavigne, he won the big race anyway…with the aforementioned Almoner.

Jerry Lavigne: 68 stakes wins…22 stakes winners…2 Queen’s Plate wins


Field of 11 coming together for $9 million dirt race

Less than two weeks to the 3rd Pegasus World Cup which be held at Gulfstream Park. This year the track has added the Pegasus Turf race also.

Some starters had their final, major workouts this past weekend and videos are available.

Snoop Dogg and Mark Ronson will perform following the races.

The Breeders’ Cup champ from last year, ACCELERATE, is expected to be heavily favoured in the 1 1/8 mile race.

ACCELERATE – Won Breeders’ Cup Classic last start; last 3 Beyer Figures 105, 100, 115
CITY OF LIGHT – BC Dirt Mile, 110, 102, 103
GUNNEVERA – 2nd BC Classic, 104, 98, 85
AUDIBLE – returned from long layoff in slop, Harlan’s Holiday Stakes. 3rd.
PATTERNRECOGNITION – won Grade 1 Cigar Mile – 105, 102, 100
BRAVAZO –  2nd Grade 1 Clark last start 102, 100, 80
SEEKING THE SOUL – 2nd Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, 97, 95 , 98 (owned by Canadian Charles Fipke)
TOM’S D’ETAT – won Tenacious S. at Fair Grounds; 99, 98, 106
TRUE TIMBER – 2nd Grade 1 Cigar Mile   104, 88, 96
KULKULKAN – won the Clasico Caribe – 71
SOMETHING AWESOME – Ontario-bred, Stronach Stables,  92, 66, 101; 2nd allowance off long layoff

Audible, the 2018 Florida Derby (G1) winner, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.91 Saturday morning at Palm Beach Downs in preparation for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park Jan. 26.

“Audible’s training really well. I’ve been pleased with all of his works, particularly this morning. It was a good, solid five-eighths with a strong gallop-out that we were looking for,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “All indications are he’s in good form and coming up to the race very well.”

Audible worked in company inside Impact Player before drawing clear in the stretch and galloping out well ahead of his workmate. Watch the video.

Owned by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners LLC, and Starlight Racing, Audible followed up his Florida Derby triumph with a troubled third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) before going to the sideline for six months. The son of Into Mischief fired fresh to win the seven-furlong Cherokee Run on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Churchill Downs Nov. 3 but faltered in his most recent start, finishing second in the 1 1/16-mile Harlan’s Holiday (G3) Dec. 15 over a sloppy Gulfstream Park track.

“It wasn’t what we were hoping for. We needed a race to build him up for the Pegasus. It didn’t go as planned. He was a prohibitive favorite. Unfortunately, before the race, the skies opened and we got a downpour into a harrowed track. They tried to seal it after that but it was too late. I think, more than anything, he didn’t like the condition of the track,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t fire his best shot. He came out of it well and has trained better than ever coming into the Pegasus. It served its purpose in terms of conditioning.”

Pletcher noted that the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus will be Audible’s third start off a layoff, widely viewed as a positive from handicapping and conditioning perspectives.

“We eased back into it after the Harlan’s Holiday. We’ve put some good, solid five-eighths into him and I’ve been particularly pleased with the way he’s galloped out. This will be his third start off the layoff,” Pletcher said.

“I think a mile and an eighth is ideal for him, especially if there’s a good contested pace. That’s important for him. He likes to settle early,” he added. “If we can get some good solid fractions. Some of the main contenders have a lot of speed. If they mix it up a little bit, I think he’ll benefit from that.”

Gunnevera ‘a Different Horse’ Heading into the Pegasus

Margoth’s Gunnevera continues to please trainer Antonio Sano with his preparation for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old son of Dialed in breezed six furlongs in 1:15.80 under Irad Ortiz Jr. Saturday morning at Gulfstream Park West. Watch the video.

“I feel very happy with him,” said Sano, whose trainee finished third in last year’s Pegasus. “He’s a different horse. He’s a stronger horse.”

Gunnevera, who concluded his 2018 campaign with a runner-up finish behind Pegasus contender Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs Nov. 3, worked in company with stablemate Cometin.

Grade 1 winner Seeking the Soul worked five-eighths of a mile Saturday in a minute flat shortly after the Fair Grounds track opened in preparation for Gulfstream Park’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1). Charles Fipke’s 6-year-old homebred horse powered the half-mile in 47 4/5 seconds, according to the official clockers on a busy workout morning.

“Just a strong, basic work for him,” trainer Dallas Stewart said by phone. “That’s him. He’s doing great.”

Seeking the Soul worked the same distance in 59 3/5 seconds a week earlier and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11 the week before in preparation for America’s richest race. Stewart said the horse will have one more workout next Saturday in New Orleans before flying to south Florida on Jan. 22. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has the mount.

Seeking the Soul, fifth in last year’s Pegasus, comes into the 1 1/8-mile stakes off of a third-place finish in Churchill Downs’ Grade 1 Clark Handicap, a stakes he captured in 2017. He finished second Nov. 3 behind Pegasus contender City of Light in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

“If he gets a good position and it’s his day, he’s very competitive,” Fipke said by phone. “He’s an outstanding horse, and he deserves to take another shot. The last Pegasus, unfortunately, he got a bone chip that Dr. (Robert) Hunt said probably affected his race, so he only came in fifth. It took a long time for him to recover. But he won a Grade 3 at Churchill, and we’re hoping” for a big performance.

Off almost six months, Seeking the Soul was second by a head in Indiana Grand’s Schaefer Memorial, followed by a disappointing effort in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Woodward. He rebounded to take Churchill’s Grade 3 AckAck under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. as the springboard to the Breeders’ Cup.

“He worked really good. He’s doing everything right. Hopefully, he comes back to racing the way he is right now,” said Ortiz, who has the return mount on Gunnevera after guiding him to his runner-up finish in the Classic.

Gunnevera, who has earned $4.1 million in career earnings, captured the 2017 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream. The Antonio Sano-trained 4-year-old son of Dialed In has also won the 2016 Saratoga Special (G2) and the $1 million Delta Jackpot (G3) and has been Grade 1 stakes-placed in the 2017 Travers (G1) and the 2018 Woodward (G1) at Saratoga, as well as the Classic.

Something Awesome 

Stronach Stables’ homebred multiple stakes winner Something Awesome, an Ontario-bred, continued preparation for the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series with a work over Gulfstream Park’s main track Sunday morning.

The millionaire graded-stakes winner breezed five furlongs in 1:02.33 under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado, his regular rider who has a return call for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) – North America’s richest race – Jan. 26.

It was the second local work for Something Awesome, an 8-year-old Awesome Again gelding that was clocked in 1:42.62 for one mile Jan. 5. The horse shipped from trainer Jose Corrales’ home base at Laurel Park in Maryland Christmas Day.

“I liked his work. He worked very steady, the way I expected,” Corrales said Sunday. “I feel like the horse really already acclimatized into this weather. When we first came here, not even fast galloping he’d come back blowing so hard, and now he goes all the way around no problem and finishes like I want him to.”

Something Awesome won five of his first six starts since joining Corrales in the fall of 2017, including victories in the seven-furlong General George (G3) and Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel and $1.2 million Charles Town Classic (G2), the latter two at 1 1/8 miles.

The 8-year-old Awesome Again gelding has made one start since the Pimlico Special (G3) May 18, finishing second to Maryland Coalition Stakes winner Colonel Sharp in an open seven-furlong allowance Nov. 16 at Laurel. Colonel Sharp came back to win the Dave’s Friend Stakes Dec. 29.

Overall, Something Awesome has nine wins and $1.093 million in purse earnings from 26 career starts. He has raced twice previously at Gulfstream, running third in a pair of seven-furlong optional claiming allowances Jan. 7 and Feb. 17, 2017.


Suspension, fine for top Standardbred horseman Rick Zeron costs filly Championship

The AGCO’s recent suspension and fine to one of Ontario’s most well know Standardbred drivers and trainers, RICK ZERON, has led to the disqualification of the millionaire filly ATLANTA from consideration as Champion Three-year-Old Trotting Filly at the upcoming O’Brien awards in Mississauga.

Atlanta, who won the Hambletonian over colts and is owned by Zeron, Crawford Farm, Holland Racing, Brad Grant and Howard Taylor was expected to win that award.

Zeron was also up for Horsemanship Award of the Year.

The stripping of awards at the O’Brien’s comes because of a policy:

Standardbred Canada’s O’Brien Award eligibility policy states:

An O’Brien Award will not be presented to any individual or entity who has served, or is currently serving a penalty for a continued period of 180 days or more during a calendar year. If the penalty continues through any part of the following calendar year, said individual is also ineligible for an O’Brien Award in the second year of the penalty.

Outstanding appeals and/or stays do not alter the conditions of eligibility for O’Brien Award consideration.


Zeron received 180 days and a $10,000 fine for a litany of violations which were itemized in the online publication Harness Racing Update.

Meanwhile, the Horse Racing Appeal board has some significant drug positive cases coming up including that of harness trainers RENE ALLARD, RICHARD MOREAU and CARMEN AUCIELLO.

On Feb. 11, the AGCO will hear the appeal by Woodbine Entertainment against TB veterinarian Dr. Brian Arem as WEG seeks a sterner punishment for a violation of shock wave therapy procedure.

MELMICH has 3rd Florida workout

MELMICH, the 8-year-old multiple graded stales winner by Wilkso, had his 3rd workout at Gulfstream on the weekend for trainer Kevin Attard.