By Scott Taylor
Manitoba’s wonder horse, the five-year-old mare Escape Clause, demonstrated on Sunday afternoon that she’s ready to step into the big time.
In fact, rumours have already begun to circulate that the Manitoba-bred bay mare from breeder Cam Ziprick and Arnason Farms in Russell, was now going to be groomed for the 2019 Breeder’s Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on November 1 and 2, at Santa Anita Park.
On Sunday afternoon, in front of a sold out Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and with a crowd of about 200 in the clubhouse at her home track, Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Escape Clause finished second to heavily-favoured Midnight Bisou in the 55th running of the $750,000 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap.
But she didn’t just finish a mediocre second. Escape Clause, a yearling that was sold to her owners — Don Schnell, Barry Arnason and Truth North Racing — for $3,792 in 2015, lost by a single hair on the tip Midnight Bisou’s nose.
With people standing, screaming her name, Escape Clause, at 8-1, nearly beat a 3-5 favourite with a pedigree that was unmatched. Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has now won the Apple Blossom eight times, Escape Clause got out smartly, tucked into the No. 3 spot, took the lead midway down the stretch and almost hung on as Midnight Bisou made an incredible run to the finish line. The outcome wasn’t decided until the final bob of the head.
“Sometimes in races, fillies like Escape Clause will jump up and run just a tremendous race,” Smith told reporters in the post-race news conference. “My hat is off to her. She made us run.
“The great ones find a way to pull it off no matter what and Midnight Bisou is one of the great ones.”
Despite the loss, Escape Clause’s remarkable story and growing legend, continued with her first Grade 1 stakes race on Sunday afternoon. She faced three of the finest older mares in the world and almost beat the lot.
Midnight Bisou came into the race off a win in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes last month and has an eye-popping lifetime high Beyer’s number of 118. Then there was the five-year-old mare Elate, ridden by Jose Ortiz and trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Elate has winnings of $1,470,325 in her career. She raced in the 2017 Breeder’s Cup Distaff. And finally, there was Wonder Gadot, the Ontario-bred four-year-old filly that won last year’s Queen’s Plate at Woodbine.
Elate finished third, Viva Forever was fourth, Chocolate Martini was fifth and Wonder Gadot last, over one and 1/16th miles on the dirt. Midnight Bisou paid $3.80, $2.60 and $2.10. Escape Clause paid $5.40 to place and $2.60 to show.
Escape Clause now boasts a record of 20 wins, four seconds and three third-place-finishes in 31 career races. With her winnings on Sunday, she has now won $645,500 in her career and $288,200 this year. Pretty good for a filly that cost its owners $3,792.
“She’s really and truly probably one of the best horses I’ve ever been on in my life,” Escape Clause’s jockey, Tyler Baze, told the post-race television audience.
“She gives it her all. She got beat a nose and I got slammed pretty hard going into the first turn. I knew I got beat at the wire. It was a head-and-head battle all the way down the lane. She gave me everything. We were a little unfortunate we didn’t get the bob.”