TRAINER Clayton Gray's voice wavered as he held back tears of joy in the winner's circle after Cherokee's Goal won the Breeders' Gold Cup Stakes at Assiniboia Downs Saturday.
Jockey Juan Crawford bubbled with excitement after he rode the three-year-old bay colt across the finish line in the $72,500 race over a mile-and-an-eighth, which capped off a $300,000 weekend at the Downs that featured five stakes races.
"This is really something," said Gray a seven-time trainer of the year at the Downs. "He's a wonderful horse, and a kind of a Cinderella story, too. I only paid $4,500 for him, and at the time I didn't even know who would buy him. I really didn't have the money to pay for him, so I just phoned my guys (Hy Road Stable) and I said, 'Guys, we gotta buy this horse,' and they came up with the money, no question."
Cherokee's Goal shut down Double Shuffle's bid to go five-for-five and win his fourth stakes race in a row. Double Shuffle finished third while Vindgari was second.
When he broke his maiden as a two-year-old last year, Cherokee's Goal also cracked a bone in a hind leg. "He's got two pins in his back leg," Gray said, "and you know, he's just wonderful."
With Double Shuffle, ridden by Vicky Baze, Crawford knew he was in a battle, but he had done his homework. "I checked my times with his, and my times were just as good," said the Barbadian rider, who also rode Cherokee's Goal to victory in the Harry Jeffery Stakes on July 10. "His last race time was just a few fractions in difference than mine, and I thought, man, I'm going to kill this one, you know what I mean?"
Crawford's strategy was solid. "I waited to see how fast the race was going. I caught up to them on the back stretch and I thought whenever I am ready, I'm pulling the trigger, and I'll kill those bunch.
"When he hit that quarter pole I saw a wall of horses in front of me, it was like perfect, I know exactly who is in front of me now, and who is behind me. I took a peek at the outside of me behind, and I realized there would be one or two of them there. I could see the danger horse coming up, so I'm like, 'make the move now, get the first run on it,' and my horse did everything I wanted him to do."
Janine Stianson won a pair of stakes races on the weekend, upping her list of stakes victories to nine this year. Saturday night she rode Major Hurricane, to victory over Farm Hand (David Lopez) and Applicant (Larren Delorme), in the $50,000 one-and-one-eighth mile W.J. Sifton Stakes. On Friday she was up on Thereisnofiteclub when she crossed the finish line to win the $50,000, one-mile Buffalo Stakes. It was her second stakes win on Thereisnofiteclub. On Aug. 27 the two paired up to win the CTHS Stakes.
With only four race days remaining in the season, it's looking more and more as though a woman will be the leading jockey for the first time at Assiniboia Downs. With her two wins Friday and one on Saturday, Baze is in first place with 66 victories. Stianson won one race on Friday and another on Saturday and sits in second place with 64. Last year's top jockey, Delorme, picked up only one win on the weekend and is now third with 61.
The final baby stakes race of the year, Saturday's $50,000 six-furlongs Winnipeg Futurity, was won by Little Widow Maker with Rohan Singh up.
It was Singh's third stakes win on the two-year-old filly. On Aug. 25 they won the Osiris Stakes and on July 16 they took the Debutante.
Miss Victoriana, with Shannon Beauregard up, took the $72,500 one-and-one-eighth mile Breeders' Matron Stakes on Friday.