Street Prancer lived up to his name and gave his six rivals the slip with a quick move on the final turn to win the 66th running of the $75,000 Manitoba Derby on Monday afternoon at Assiniboia Downs, while Manitoba-bred star Jet Again sputtered into sixth place in front of the largest crowd seen at the local track in at least 20 years.
Stalking Hy Road Stable's longshot leader Storm Chance from the outside to the final turn in Manitoba's most prestigious race, Street Prancer moved deftly to take over the lead when Storm Chance drifted wide midway through the turn. Young jockey Jalon Samuel snapped up the chance to win the first Derby of his young career.
"I've ridden in five Derbies," said Samuel, a former champion rider from Barbados. "I've had two seconds, a fourth and fifth. It's an unbelievable feeling to win a Derby. They're the hardest and most prestigious races to win, no matter what track they are at."
Samuel opened a 31/2-length lead with Street Prancer into the stretch and basically coasted home to win by 11/2-lengths over favourite Master Lightning, who was hard-ridden by jockey Paul Nolan to hold second place by three-quarters of a length over resurging Marvin Buffalo-trainee Storm Chance and jockey Quincy Hamilton.
Trained by Eclipse Award Winning trainer Steve Asmussen for Mike McCarty, and shipped into trainer Blair Miller's barn here on Saturday only because allowance races against older horses were too tough in Indiana, Street Prancer stopped the timer in 1:54.80 for the 1-1/8-miles and paid $8.90 to win as the third choice in the wagering. It was the first stakes win for the 3-year-old colt by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, improving his lifetime record to 3-1-0 from eight starts and increasing his earnings to $91,159.
Street Prancer was the last horse to arrive at the Downs for the Manitoba Derby, but the sheen on his coat and the sparkle in his eyes immediately signalled him as a contender. Miller met trainer Steve Asmussen through former local jockey champion Tim Gardiner while at a 2-year-old in training sale in Florida this June and Gardiner asked Asmussen if he was ever going to send a horse up for the Manitoba Derby. Miller followed up with a text message to Asmussen the day before Manitoba Derby nominations closed and the deal was done, so to speak. It's certainly done now.
Local fan favourite Jet Again, second choice in the wagering, really showed no interest in running at any point in the race, and was later found to have had an adverse reaction to Lasix.
Veterinarian Cyndi Kasper said Lasix reactions are complicated physiologically and occur rarely.
It couldn't have happened on a worse day for Jet Again, as he had been training lights out leading up to the race. It was a subdued and disappointed trainer Jim Meyaard who described the situation with Jet Again after the race. Back to the drawing board, Jet Again will need a rest now after a steady climb to the top.
In other stakes action, Terry Propps' 2-year-old colt Spider's Alibi used a power move under jockey Alexis Batista to win the $30,000 Graduation Stakes by 2 3/4-lengths for trainer Charlie Smith over Little Oak Acres game Manitoba-bred longshot Kenton and jockey Hilario Estrella. James Thares' Ciaran's Prize put her field to sleep on the front end with Quincy Hamilton aboard to win the $50,000 Assiniboia Oaks by three lengths over local star Aware, who ran her heart out in defeat for trainer Don Schnell and jockey Renaldo Cumberbatch. And last but far from least, Paul Brandt's champion Balooga Bull evened the score with archrival Magic D'Oro in the $30,000 R.J. Speers, holding off that rival to win by a neck under Paul Nolan for leading trainer Ardell Sayler.
The betting pools were huge, with $547,754 being pumped through the mutuel windows by fans that were treated to the finest day of live racing action we've seen this year.
"The stars aligned today," said Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn. "The action on the track was hot, which matched the weather on a beautiful Manitoba afternoon. Throw in a huge enthusiastic crowd and you just couldn't script it any better."