The "Bull" is back and he's got company in the guts and class department.
Balooga Bull showed why he's been named champion here multiple times with a gutsy three-quarter-length victory over arch-rival Magic D' Oro on Wednesday night in the $30,000 Wheat City Stakes, and Manitoba-bred Jet Again gave no quarter to blue-blood Edison in the $30,000 Harry Jeffrey Stakes.
Leading trainer Ardell Sayler, who has developed Balooga Bull into one of the best horses ever seen at Assiniboia Downs, was relieved to have his champion back on track after two straight losses to Magic D' Oro.
"He's difficult to train," said Sayler. "He worries a lot and he doesn't eat well at the track. When he's on the farm during the winter he'll eat five gallons of oats a day, but not here. I have to thank veterinarian Cindy Casper for all her help. And jockey Paul Nolan gallops him every day. Everybody helps out with him. His groom is Richard Spencer. It's a team effort."
Balooga Bull has been the beneficiary of patient management by Sayler and his owner Paul Brandt. Now a five-year-old with earnings approaching $300,000, he's raced exclusively at Assiniboia Downs, compiling a record of 13-3-1 from 18 starts including wins in Manitoba's two most prestigious races -- the Manitoba Derby and the Assiniboia Downs Gold Cup.
Balooga Bull took the lead from the start in the Wheat City but he was soon joined on the outside by Magic D' Oro, who was forced to deal with some bumping at the start. The two raced as a tandem down the backstretch and through the final turn before Balooga Bull turned on the jets and opened a 21/2-length lead into the stretch. The race should have been over at that point, but Magic D' Oro came storming back late to get within three-quarters of a length at the wire. It takes a good horse to make a good horse, and Magic D' Oro has definitely forced Balooga Bull to his limits this year.
Trained by Rob Atras for Robert Mitchell and Martin Yeroschak, Magic D' Oro is another horse that has been well managed this year. And he's definitely improved under the care of Atras, who is winning at an amazing 40 per cent clip. Magic D' Oro has won three of four starts since arriving at the Downs. And the final time for the mile in the Wheat City, 1:37.60, was the best we've seen here in years.
These two horses are very closely matched and you can expect a few more epic battles between them before the season is done.
And while we're on the subject of management, how about the job trainer Jim Meyaard has done with Manitoba-bred Jet Again, who took heavily favoured Edison to the wall and lost by only three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/16-mile Harry Jeffrey Stakes on Wednesday?
Edison, a $950,000 yearling that was purchased privately by trainer Robertino Diodoro for the ownership team of Bob Butz, Rick Running Rabbit and Fouad El Kardy after finishing third in a tough allowance race at Belmont Park, had already won twice at Canterbury and Gulfstream Park.
Edison had a fitness edge, a class edge, a pedigree edge and a purchase-price edge on Jet Again, but someone forgot to tell the homebred he was supposed to wilt at the top of the stretch in the final prep for the Manitoba Derby. Jet Again had been pummeling restricted competition sprinting and his move up into open company in the Harry Jeffrey was akin to a top high school hockey player playing his first game in the NHL. He gets the Bobby Orr Award for his performance.
Full of run throughout under jockey Chris Husbands, Jet Again took the lead in late turn with Edison breathing down his neck. The pair dueled into the stretch and drew away from the field, with Jet Again finally giving grudgingly to his rival from the sixteenth pole.
It was an exceptional performance, which should set Jet Again up perfectly for the $75,000 Manitoba Derby on Monday, August 4.
It was also a solid first-time dirt prep for Edison, who is owned by Albertans and said to be bypassing the Manitoba Derby to run instead in the $200,000 Canadian Derby in Edmonton.
If Edison goes to Edmonton, barring any stunning shippers, Jet Again and his local owners Barry Arnason, Cam Ziprick and Charles Fouillard, will be the favourite for the Manitoba Derby.
"I just hope I can get the tank filled up again in the next 19 days," said Meyaard, whose additional post-race comments echoed those of Sayler, Atras and Diodoro. All had high praise and respect for their competition. Like their horses.