When the 90th edition of the Canadian Derby — the first in the history of the new Century Mile track — goes to the post at 6:45 p.m. Sunday, it won’t be the first time there will be a focus on an overwhelming favourite breaking from the gates in the race.
Final Jeopardy, with 8-to-5, morning line odds, is the three-year-old with all the credentials to not only win the race but goes into it as one of the best horses ever to enter a starting gate for a thoroughbred horse race in Western Canada.
What is different here is that that he’ll be surrounded in those starting gates by arguably one of the most outstanding Canadian Derby fields ever put on the program for the annual event.
If Final Jeopardy fails, there will be a worthy winner there with the likes of Explode, Miltontown, Kaziranga, Journeyman and Senor Friday.
But every which way to Sunday, there was no debate about which horse that should be favoured in the race with a $250,000 purse after running at $150,000 two years ago and $200,000 last year.
It wouldn’t be the first Canadian Derby where an “Eastern Invader” came to town and flopped. There have been dozens of them.
But this is the first year that the Derby will be held on the only mile-long track west of Woodbine and it won’t be the tight corners of the old bullring at Northlands Park that would claim another vaunted victim.
And it wouldn’t be because of the mile and three eights marathon that has always given this race its own identity.
This year’s race will run at the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby for the logical reason that you can’t start a horserace on a corner, which is where it would be located over a mile and three eighths.
Postpositions aren’t as big of a factor on a mile track so starting eighth ought not to be a major concern either.
But there are other factors that could come into play suggests Rod Cone, the 50-year veteran who won his third Canadian Derby, the 88th edition, by a court decision delivered earlier this week.
“It depends on how the shipping affects him,” said Cone of Total Jeopardy travelling from Belmont Park in New York. “There are a lot of things like the water and feed that come into it, too.”
And, again, it’s a first-rate field.
“This looks like an upper class type of three-year-olds, not just one stand out,” said trainer Tim Rycroft who won the Derby with Academic in 2015 and will saddle Call It A Wrap ridden by Wilmer Galviz with the pole in the Derby this year.
“They’re a pretty decent group. They’re all very decent horses. That said I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s going to be 1-to-9 or 4-to-5.”
But there is Final Jeopardy and there are the rest of the horses in the minds of most as they head to the post with a full dozen in the starting gates.
So what’s the story of this horse that just finished second in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont, losing to Code of Honor, the horse that ended up second in the Kentucky Derby?
Final Jeopardy was recently purchased by B.C. horse-owner Peter Redekop for the express purpose of running in Edmonton and at the B.C. Derby in Vancouver now that both have increased their purses to $250,000 for the major event in either jurisdiction this summer.
Redekop doesn’t do interviews and Edmonton jockey Rigo Sarmiento doesn’t speak much English so trainer Phil Hall will have to do most of the talking if Final Jeopardy wins the race to add to the $148,250 he’s won already this year.
It was Redekop’s racing manager Dr. Bryan Anderson who was speaking to acquisition of the close-but-no-cigar star.
“With two races in the West right now worth $250,000 you can win a lot of money in those two races. We thought it was worth trying to buy a horse that we feel very comfortable running.”
I asked Anderson if he thought Final Jeopardy might be one of the best horses if not the top horse ever to run in this race?
“I do. Yes, I do,” he responded.
“He just ran second to a very good horse at the Dwyer,” he said of Code of Honor. “That’s a very for real horse.”
The deal for Redekop to buy Final Jeopardy took a while.
“It was a fairly long process because some other people were interested in him as well. We ended up making an offer. It took them a long time to get back to us and they split the difference on the asking price and the offer,” said Anderson of the dollars believed to be just south of $450,000.
“We had the veterinarian who normally does our work for us fly out to check him out. He passed that. Our trainer went back to watch him work to make sure he was fit. He worked and worked well, so we lined up the flight to haul him to Edmonton.”
Choosing Sarmiento, who with Rico Walcott missing much of the season recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumor leads the jockey standing, was the no-brainer choice to be the rider.
“He just finished winning three in a row for us out in Vancouver. He won two on B.C. Cup day on the Monday of the long weekend and we kept him here and stayed in town for our next card and won as well. So we’re pretty high on him,” said Anderson.
You now know about the horse. You already know about the jockey. But what’s the story on the owner who would spend $400,000-plus to try win a pair of horse races in Alberta and B.C.?
“Peter is a successful builder and developer who has been in the horse business for 50-some years. I’ve been working for him for the last nine. He’s just a great guy,” said Anderson.
Anderson manages the 53 horses Redekop has in his stable.
“The owner has won the B.C. Derby four times including three in a row but has just the one Canadian Derby crown in 2005 with a horse that my wife and I actually raised called Alabama Rain.”
Redekop is getting itchy for a win. His Kentucky Derby horse just missed qualifying and then didn’t get it done at the Preakness. And right now the wins a hard to come by.
“We just finished second by a nose in the Longacres Mile with a horse called Anyportinastorm.
“The Canadian Derby is important to him. It’s a big race. He’s a Western Canadian guy with friends in Edmonton that he’s known for a long time. He’s had horses in the Canadian Derby quite a few times. He likes going out there.”
The horse and his owner are both starved for a win.