Races at the Downs showcase province’s best

It’s show time for Manitoba-breds.

The first act took place last Saturday when two-year-old Champion Why So Blue made his three-year-old debut in the 31st running of the $25,000 Frank Arnason Sire Stakes. The curtain rises for the second and third acts this weekend when 2017 horse of the year and Manitoba-bred Escape Clause makes her local 2018 debut in the 34th running of the $27,500 La Verendrye Stakes tonight, and Saturday evening when nine of the best three-year-old Manitoba-bred fillies take to the track for the 11th running of the $25,000 Hazel Wright Sire Stakes.

Why So Blue was making his first start of 2018 in the Frank Arnason, and you never know if a two-year-old will continue to be a runner when they turn three, but the undefeated Manitoba-bred son of Going Commando-Jungle Storm by Storm Boot responded to pressure right on cue for regular rider Prayven Badrie and found enough late to defeat Tom Payne’s game and race-fit T. G’s Quest by three-quarters of a length. T. G’s Quest was 100 per cent ready for action, too, having won his first local start here for trainer Marvin Buffalo, who conditioned his blossoming charge in Phoenix this past winter.

Why So Blue answered all questions and galloped out long and smooth after recording a fast time of 1:12.60 for the six furlongs. Fit older allowance runners went only two-fifths (two lengths) faster than Why So Blue three races later, which also speaks well of this homebred’s talent.

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It’s show time for Manitoba-breds.

The first act took place last Saturday when two-year-old Champion Why So Blue made his three-year-old debut in the 31st running of the $25,000 Frank Arnason Sire Stakes. The curtain rises for the second and third acts this weekend when 2017 horse of the year and Manitoba-bred Escape Clause makes her local 2018 debut in the 34th running of the $27,500 La Verendrye Stakes tonight, and Saturday evening when nine of the best three-year-old Manitoba-bred fillies take to the track for the 11th running of the $25,000 Hazel Wright Sire Stakes.

Why So Blue was making his first start of 2018 in the Frank Arnason, and you never know if a two-year-old will continue to be a runner when they turn three, but the undefeated Manitoba-bred son of Going Commando-Jungle Storm by Storm Boot responded to pressure right on cue for regular rider Prayven Badrie and found enough late to defeat Tom Payne’s game and race-fit T. G’s Quest by three-quarters of a length. T. G’s Quest was 100 per cent ready for action, too, having won his first local start here for trainer Marvin Buffalo, who conditioned his blossoming charge in Phoenix this past winter.

Why So Blue answered all questions and galloped out long and smooth after recording a fast time of 1:12.60 for the six furlongs. Fit older allowance runners went only two-fifths (two lengths) faster than Why So Blue three races later, which also speaks well of this homebred’s talent.

Trained by Steven Gaskin and groomed by Gaskin’s wife, Jessica, Why So Blue is owned by Manitoba Jockey Club president Harvey Warner; Wayne, Barry and Scott Anderson; and Bob and Margaret Crockett. His record now stands at a perfect 4-for-4 with earnings of $55,560 — including previous stakes wins in the 2017 CTHS Sales Stakes and Buffalo Stakes.

Why So Blue’s owners have invested a ton of money in Manitoba-bred horses over the past 40 years, and for good reason. Manitoba-bred horses run for more money every time they start in a regular race, and that makes it easier to pay the bills. Breeders Cam Ziprick and Charles Fouillard also receive bonuses when Why So Blue wins.

“The money stays in Manitoba,” said Warner, whose best previous horse was 1989 Manitoba Derby winner Rough Catch. “And we invest it back in more horses. Who doesn’t? That’s the optimum, if you can do it. When you buy a horse, you hope to get a good one or at least one that can pay its way. But getting that good one is a bonus. And the money finds its way back into all facets of the local economy, to people who live in Manitoba. It helps make for a strong local breeding program, and also helps fill races. And we’re buying horses in Canadian dollars, there’s not the 30 per cent premium you’d have to pay if you bought in the U.S.A.”

Smartly managed by Gaskin and his owners, three of Why So Blue’s four wins have come in restricted company, allowing him to gain the confidence he’ll need when he soon moves up in class to face open company. The $13,000 purchase at the local yearling sale is set up perfectly for his next big test, and it will take a runner to beat him.

Escape Clause has already made her impressive jump into open company for trainer Don Schnell and his partners Barry Arnason and True North, winning an amazing seven stakes last year and finishing a game second in the Manitoba Derby. Groomed this year by Jessica Eyolfson, the gorgeous bay Manitoba-bred four-year-old filly by Going Commando-Danger Pay by Circulating was bred by Ziprick and Arnason Farms, and has already earned $186,719 from a record of 9-3-2 in 16 starts.

Escape Clause will meet five rivals in the La Verendrye on Saturday, including big recent winner Stevie Mac, owned by trainer Shelley Brown and partners Scott Anderson and Larry Falloon, and C J’s Flair, owned by trainer Murray Duncan and the estate of his lifelong friend, Garylle B. Stewart. Duncan is another Manitoba-bred star who has been conditioning horses here longer than every other trainer on the grounds except Gary Danelson — and cleaning up in the stakes here for years with his Oaklawn Park claims. This race will be no cakewalk for Escape Clause.

C J’s Flair arrives race-fit from Oaklawn Park, and Stevie Mac is as good as she can get right now. Escape Clause has started twice this year at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, and her last race was a doozy, as she tried the best filly on the grounds there twice in the stretch before finishing second — beaten by less than a length. If you want to know what the best-of-the-best Manitoba-bred horses look like, Escape Clause will show you in the paddock.

And she runs to her looks.