2017 has been a year of celebration in Canada, marking 150 years of the Canadian confederation. Alongside this, the horse racing industry celebrated a greater landmark this year, the 250th year anniversary of the sport of kings. As the curtain falls down on the 2016/17 season, it is time to reflect on a season that has been full of twists and turns, with shocks and surprises around every corner. The championship this year has been a great one, and this primitive test of speed and stamina has shown, once again, why it deserves a place in Canada’s heart. The mystique of the elusive Triple Crown had us all hooked, especially because of the fleeting hope we had for Luis Contreras to reclaim his Triple Crown victory. This series of three thoroughbred horse races, which was first established in 1959, has been the highlight of jockeys, trainers and owners calendars for almost 60 years. The Triple Crown has had an illustrious history and may have tried to claim it, but only a few have been successful. Open to three-year-old horses, foaled in Canada, the three tracks, with their different surfaces and multiple challenges, have been at the centre of many a young jockey’s dreams. The Queens plate is Canada’s oldest thoroughbred horse race, founded in 1860, and this has been one of the most important races in Canada for many years. The first leg of the Triple Crown this year was raced on July 2nd in Toronto Ontario and, the favourite Holly Helena, ridden by Luis Contreras, delivered a first for Frank Stronach. Much was expected from this stunning filly and she certainly lived up to expectation, the 3 1 ½ length victory saw the horse coming from third place to win the race easily. Galloping out strong, Holly Helena became the third filly to beat the boys in this race in the past seven years. Sired by Stronach’s horse of the Year Ghostzapper and out of Holy Mare, this horse’s pedigree features two Queens Plate winners, including Canadian favourite Northern Dancer. Winning the 300, 000 dollar prize pot, the horse certainly lived up to her ancestral glory, setting of the triple crown in style.
Luis Contreras also took the victory with Cool Catomine at the 82nd running of the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, at Fort Erie Race Track over in Ontario. Cool Catomine was a 14-1 long shot, and the son of Spring at Last, did the owners proudly. Trained by John Ross, this colt had won its first race on Woodbine July 2nd, and had not even raced in the previous year. With only one third-place finish in its first three races, Cool Catomine was the outsider that nobody had predicted. But the horse had been reportedly training well, and with his mightily impressive bloodlines, the horse took first place in front of Aurora Way and State of Honour. In a post-race interview, Contreras gushed, “I’m so glad this horse found me and brought me here”, with high praise of the animal being heard around the track. With the first two legs of the Triple Crown won, albeit on different horses, it was beginning to look like Mexican born Luis Contreras was once again going to take the Triple Crown for the second time. In 2011, the jockey had previously become the first ever jockey to win the elusive price on multiple horses, with Inglorious securing the plate and Pedder Harbour winning the following prince of Wales and the Breeders Stakes. The third and final race of Canada’s Triple Crown was the $400, 000 Breeders Stakes, a 1 1.2 mile classic turf track. A field of ten contested the race, with favourites being Channel Maker, Final Copy and 6-1 third choice Cool Catomine. But unfortunately for Contreras, Channel Maker, ridden by Rafael Hernandez stole the day with an exciting photo finish. Hernandez rode Channel Maker ninth throughout the mile, before taking the lead down the stretch and coming up neck and neck with Final Copy, ridden by Patrick Husbands. There was some controversy, as Hernandez’s win was disputed as he faced two separate allegations of alleged interference by other riders. The incidences were soon disallowed, and Channel Maker was declared victorious.
As for Contreras, his hopes of a repeat performance was dashed as Cool Catomine struggled down the stretch, faltering he finished last in the ten horse race. With personal dreams of winning the Triple Crown for the second time dashed for Contreras. But with eight wins in twenty-one starts at the beginning of the season, and a continued record of success since, Contreras should not be too downhearted. There was also a close race for the trainer title this year and winning 5 of the 14 races on the closing day, meant that Norm McKnight was able to steal away the top position. His last minute performance snatched the victory from Mark Casse, his first defeat in over a decade, with the final results being 99-96. But, Casse stayed on top when it came to earnings, accumulating $6.9 million in purses. For the fifth time running, De Silva topped the jockey standings, with a total of 203 races. His mounts a staggering $10.88 million across the season, and he his future is continuing to look bright. While the bleak prospects of the future continue to leave the mood amongst most owners, trainers and jockeys a little bit grim, this has been the championship that has shown exactly why we need to work together to protect this beautiful sport. The championship this year had some nail-biting moments, with photo finishes, hopes dashed and glory for the select few being the flavour of the day. The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame partnered with the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society to create a fabulous series of celebration. Events have been held across tracks and racing centres around the country, and it has certainly been a year to remember.