The beer was flowing, the hats were big, the bets were in and the heart rates were running faster than the hooves on the track at Assiniboia Downs on Monday.
And when it was all said and done, race fans will have to wait another year for a Manitoba-bred horse to win the $75,000 Manitoba Derby.
Jet Again, at three-to-one odds and owned by Russell’s Cam Ziprick, St. Lazare’s Charles Fouillard and Winnipeg’s Barry Arnason, finished sixth.
"He had a good trip and there was nothing that hurt him, but he didn’t really show up to run today," Ziprick said.
In the end it was a Kentucky horse, Street Prancer, that crossed the finish line first.
He was the favourite at five-to-two odds.
The horse is owned by Steve Asmussen, one of the most successful American trainers ever.
Ziprick had nothing but praise for the winner.
"The horse that won is a good horse," he said moments after the race standing near the track.
Street Prancer hung out in third position until the second last corner, when he made his move. By the final turn he was all alone in first, cruising to a one-and-a-half length win.
Master Lighting, a Pennsylvanian horse, made a late charge and might have tracked him down if he didn’t run out of real estate.
The race was promoted as one of the best opportunities in a long time for a Manitoba breeder to capture just their fourth trophy in the race’s Assiniboia history.
Last month, Jet Again raced stride for stride with Edison, the heavy favourite, before losing by less than a length in the 1 1/16-mile Jeffrey Stakes.
While he wasn’t the winner, it was impressive feat for the three-year-old gelding that cost his owners $16,000. Compare that with Edison, a $950,000 Florida-bred yearling, and Jet Again certainly didn’t disappoint.
Edison’s Alberta owners chose to skip Manitoba’s biggest race, running instead in the $200,000 Canadian Derby in Edmonton on Aug. 16.
For many, that decision opened the door for Jet Again.
Ziprick said the tough race against Edison may have affected Jet Again yesterday, the first time he ran the 1 1/8 mile distance in his career.
"He never really fired today," Ziprick said. "I think from his last race, when he ran so hard, sometimes they come back and don’t do so well. Today was one of those days."
Prior to that race, Jet Again had won his last three races by a combined 14 lengths, at times making it look like he was just out with a stroll with inferior competition.
The race also set him up perfectly for the Derby, according to Fouillard.
"You usually like to run them about once every three weeks to allow the horse to recover and fill up its tank again," Fouillard said. "The races are 19 days apart so that worked out well."
Standing together, both Fouillard and Ziprick were proud to have a horse in the derby.
"I think the trainer took it harder than us, but win, lose or draw —we’re still going to have a few beer," Ziprick joked. "Just to have a horse at the derby is pretty cool and to know that he came from our farm. It’s pretty special to have the only Manitoba-bred horse in the race."
Ziprick, who owns a farm about five kilometres east of Russell, has been training horses for 35 years.
His crowning achievement came exactly 25 years ago, when Rough Catch, a horse he was training, won the derby.
"That was the highlight of our racing career," Ziprick said. "We’ve done really well with breeding, so this is just icing on the cake."
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