Pleasant CLOSING has been strutting his stuff around Assiniboia Downs shed row all week, and with good reason.
In the seventh race last Saturday, the bay stallion by Closing Argument out of Pleasant Jolie, by Pleasant Colony, wrested the king-of-the-hill crown from Balooga Bull by winning the one-and-a-sixteenth-miles, $30,000 Harry Jeffrey Stakes.
Ridden by Tyrone Nelson, and trained/owned by Murray Duncan, Pleasant Closing never let up on the Bull, who had been undefeated in six races.
He stuck to his outside along the backstretch until early into the final turn, where he took over on the outside, never to look back, winning by a length and a half over a surprising (21-1) So Shiny (Prayven Badrie up). Balooga Bull, with Paul Nolan in the irons, settled for third.
It was the third meeting between Pleasant Closing and Balooga Bull this year, with the Bull taking the first two; both going only six furlongs.
Nelson, who is the Downs' top route jockey (distance over a mile) with six wins in 17 starts, had a solid plan, and stuck to it. "I knew the Bull hadn't gone the distance yet," he said of the Ardell Sayler-trained horse, "so my plan was to press him a little bit and see if he would quit. As soon as we were getting to the three-eighths point, I knew I had a pretty good shot because my horse wanted to run harder. I thought let's try and break his heart and go right by him.
"When I turned for home, I started to feel my horse begin to wait back for the other horses, but as soon as So Shiny got up to my horse, my horse started to run again."
Duncan, who claimed Pleasant Closing back in March for $30,000, is convinced his money was well spent. "He ran the race we wanted him to run. He's a route horse, and that is why we claimed him, but that was the first time for him going around two turns here."
Sayler believes his horse was at a disadvantage because the Downs had not written a preparation race for him.
"Its hard to run a horse from six furlongs to one and a sixteenth miles right off the top like that. The other horses all had mile races underneath them. In every other stakes race, they give the horse a prep, but for this race they didn't."
Actually, only three of the six horses in the race had run more than six furlongs. Pleasant Closing ran a mile and a sixteenth at Oaklawn Park (Arkansas) in April and March, Runaway Lion (fifth) ran a mile and an eighth at Woodbine in June and Jon's Golden Run (sixth) did a mile here back in September. Interestingly, So Shiny had never run more than six furlongs either.
The victory, his third this year in nine starts, puts Pleasant Closing at the top of the list of local favourites for the mile-and-an-eighth $75,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby set for Aug. 6.
On the strength of his second-place finish, So Shiny has to figure in there somewhere, as well as Runaway Lion, the Phil Kives-owned gelding, which is still somewhat of a mystery. Kives and trainer Shelley Brown both affirmed weeks ago their horse needed a lot of work after coming here from Woodbine, where he had been running on a Polytrack (artificial) surface. "The horse came here a little on the lean side," said Brown. "He came in with that Polytrack soreness to him. He was stiff and tight."
Then, of course, there are always the out-of-town horses, but so far no one has tipped their hand in that respect. For now, Nelson is comfortable he and Pleasant Closing will be there on Derby Day. "It's horse racing and anything can happen," said Nelson. "The Bull will probably be tougher, but the more journey (distance) my horse goes, the better my horse is going to be."
Post time for today and Saturday is 7 p.m.