Keeling: Nice, not naughty

Each year, Stan Gutkowski of puts out, as befits the season, a look at the “Naughty and Nice” of the season. This year his list includes  -- on the nice side – our own Chuck Keeling. Here is what Gutkowski had to say about the Downs’ general manager: 

“If anyone wants a role model for a racetrack executive, look no further. This self-deprecating gentleman defines his needs, set his goals, then works overtime to achieve them. Take, for example, Fraser Downs' recent success with securing the local Town Council's approval for slots. It only took three years of concerted effort, never-ending, untiring work to accomplish the goal. But, he and his support staff can point to the result.

His love of racing is only exceeded by his ability (and willingness) to help others solve their problems. He has approached the mayor of a local community about the possibility of starting up a "fair" to conduct racing in his town. Though last seen two years ago, the idea has not vanished. Rather, he pursues it along with his other dreams to expand racing and increase its audience. If more executives had his hands-on approach to problems, more would get done. And, oh yeah, he returns phone calls too.” 

COLA SPARKLES: Haras Colta Cola stole the show from the “big” boys last Saturday in the Invite at the Downs. 

The four-year-old gelded son of Armbro Operative, went gate-to-wire, to win by 4¼ lengths in a time of 1:56.2 over a sloppy track. It was his four win of 2003 and his second in less than a month in the Invite. Owned by Off Track Stable, trained by Paul Harrison and driven by Rick White, Colta Cola now has won earned more than $58,000 this year and more than $110,000 in his career. 

“We got away with a cheap half,” said White in the winner’s enclosure. “Bre X (first-up challenger) never got up to me and then when I asked him (Cola) to open up on the last turn he did.” 

Bre X, who has been dominant in the Invites this year and a co-track record holder, stayed third throughout the race. Red Star Admiral, winner a week earlier, was forced to the back from his outside post and then was interfered with just before the half. 

Infinite Dreams, who came on to finish second, was charged with the interference and placed sixth by the judges. 

Bre X was moved to second and Hesanine to third. 

NOMINATE, NOMINATE: Nominations are in short supply for the annual B.C. Standardbred Association’s awards. 

Awards cannot be made on the BCSA side unless a horse, or human, is nominated. The closing date for nominations is Monday, Jan. 5. If you have a favorite get your nomination in now. 

The BCSA and the B.C. Standardbred Breeders Society annual industry awards banquet is set for Feb. 14. It will be held at Northview Golf Course on 168th Street. Tickets, which are again $40, are on sale at the BCSA and BCSBS office. 

VINNELL HORSE SIZZLES: Smoke N Sizzle, owned by James Vinnell of Langley along with Blair Corbeil of Beaumont and Myron Yurko of Edmonton, Alta., popped out of the two-hole before the three-quarter pole and drew off win by a length and a quarter in the $67,570 Oil Burner Series final last Saturday at the Meadowlands. 

David Miller tipped Smoke N Sizzle on the turn for home and sent the three-year-old Rustler Hanover gelding on to his tenth win along with eight seconds and two thirds from 24 starts this year.

“It worked out just perfectly,” said Miller. “I thought there would be a lot of speed but there wasn't. I just paced around the breaker [Cosmic Dreamer] and got the two-hole trip.” 

Jacksbrotherjoe got up for second and it was seven and a half lengths to Worlds Apart in third.  

“He raced great,” said Mark Silva, the trainer of Smoke N Sizzle. “I didn't really think he would win. But he had the perfect trip. The two-hole trip worked out perfectly for him. We had worked on his front feet and ankles, and he seemed to respond to that well. He's going into the Clyde Hirt Series, and we're not going to change much.” 

OUR KIND OF MADNESS: Boxing Day is usually a big day at Fraser Downs and 2003 was no exception. A large crowd was on hand in all areas of the Clubhouse and Grandstand.

This year, total wagering handle for the day was $714,000 versus $602,000 last year.

However, a comparison of the two years may be somewhat deceiving. This year the Downs had 13 races versus 11 last year. As well, California came in for two races this year, for a total of $89,000, versus just one race last year, for a total of $47,000. 

Another significant partner in 2003 was the WEG (Woodbine) network where last year, they collectively wagered $119,000, but this year they piled in $189,000. 

DAVIS, BUT JUST: Bill Davis once again led the driver/trainer derby last weekend at the Downs but he had plenty nipping at his heels. 

Davis won five times in the sulky, one ahead of Scott Knight and Rick White and two more than Jim Wiggins, Tim Brown, Jim Burke, Carl Sibiga and Jim Marino. 

Davis trained four winners, one more than Wiggins, Heather Sifert, Mike Glover and White. Four more had two victories each. 

Gord Abbott, back driving at the Downs after several years in Ontario, got his first two wins of the meet. Trainer Sharon Graham picked up her first training win of 2003. 

HOLLINGSWORTH HURT: While the drivers named above had good weekends, it was not one to remember for Grant Hollingsworth.

The veteran, who has been having a strong meet, was involved in a spill Saturday in the second race with Red Star Kassi.

While making a strong stretch drive, Hollingsworth and Kassi tried to go inside pacesetter Arturos Choice. They got outside the pylons and Kassi went down just as they crossed the line with Hollingsworth going over the top. 

Hollingsworth got up quickly to keep Kassi quiet on the ground until they could get her untangled from the harness and bike.

Both walked away. However, it was later determined that Hollingsworth suffered a separated shoulder with damage to ligaments, a painful injury. He will likely be sidelined for months. 

Kassi had to be humanely destroyed after returning to the barns. She suffered internal injuries with hemorrhaging. 

DREAMER NO. 1: Ken Compton of Surrey is the first week’s winner of the California Dreamin handicapping contest at the Downs. 

Compton won $739 last Saturday and then survived a series of tie-breaking criteria, to get the nod over Jim Senties of Langley who had the same total. Both had two winners on the day. 

The winner – and guest – of the CDHC, of course, gets to go to the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, courtesy of Fraser Downs. 

In the CDHC, which runs weekly until Feb. 28, contestants are asked to handicap a series of races from Santa Anita.  

The contest is based on six races from the Santa Anita card, races three through eight, and on which entrants will handicap three. For each of the three horses chosen, a mythical $20 win, place, show bet is placed. At the end of each contest day, scores will be tallied and the entrant with the highest total will receive the weekly $250 prize – and be crowned a finalist. 

Compton is the first of 10 finalists who will battle head-to-head in the CDHC on Saturday, March 6 in the Homestretch Party Zone. The ultimate winner will be surfing – the racing program – on Derby Day. 

Entry ballots are available at the Welcome Centre the morning of each contest day. They must be returned before the scheduled post of the second race at Santa Anita. 

CANCUN CALLING: Do you still thirst for a trip to Cancun, Mexico? You have to Jan. 11 to do something about it. 

All that is required is to order a blended fruit (umbrella) drink at Margaritaville (the Downs) and receive an entry form for a chance to win the trip to Cancun. 

The draw for the March (Spring Break) trip to sunny Meckiko will be held Jan. 16 in the winner’s enclosure at the Downs.  

MAINMAN’S MOONSHOT: Last week we selected Jomars Nagano but the 10-1 choice finished sixth. This week we will try Tierra Revo, a 10-1 morning line shot, in the seventh race on Saturday.