By Scott Taylor
With Escape Clause off in Delaware running with the big guns, everyone at Assiniboia Downs hoped another filly would fill her shoes.
It would appear, her younger stepsister has moved in to fill the bill.
Friday night, in the $30,000 Chantilly Stakes, a six-furlong sprint that is an early preview race for the Manitoba Oaks, Hidden Grace had some inside speed, was pressured and then opened up on the turn and drew out to a five-length win.
Hidden Grace, ridden by Renaldo Cumberbatch, is a Bay filly by Going Commando (Escape Clause’s father) out of High Power. The breeders are Cam Ziprick, Charles Fouillard and Barry Arnason (Ziprick and Arnason bred Escape Clause). She’s owned by Arnason, Ziprick and Fouillard (Arnason is a co-owner of Escape Clause) and is trained by Michael Nault, the former exercise rider for Escape Clause who has picked up Don Schnell’s Assiniboia Downs’ stable while Schnell keeps Escape Clause company in Delaware.
It’s all in the family.
“While it is far too early to begin meaningful comparisons with the ASD wonder-mate Escape Clause, it is impossible not to start to think about that conversation,” said Downs CEO Darren Dunn. “Especially considering the similar breeding and ownership connections to each horse.”
On Friday night, Hidden Grace won her second race in two starts this season and paid 3.20, 3.30 and 2.60 as the heavy morning line favourite. She had a relatively easy time with the second-place finisher, Lady Gusto, trained by Penny Hulme and ridden by Richard Mairs and the third-place contender, Takahiro’s Dream, trained by Shelley Brown and ridden by Prayven Badrie.
Hidden Grace has now won all four races that she’s started in her career — two last year as a two-year-old and both races this year — and she’s brought home $54,740 in those four outings.
“With her speed, style and what seems like push-button acceleration, this filly leaves you with the impression she has nothing but blue skies ahead,” said Dunn. “Though she is lightly raced, she already appears to be dominant in the three-year-old filly category.”
For Nault, it’s kind of thrilling to have inherited a filly like Hidden Grace. After all, the 51-year-old former exercise rider who got into the racing business when he was 16-years-old, was simply taking over a barn for a veteran. Now, with the veteran on the road, Nault is the centre of attention.
“Taking over from Don is a big step up, big shoes to fill,” said Nault. “I was excited about it and nervous about it. Like I said, big shoes to fill.”
Nault actually got involved in the business when he was just a child. His dad bought thoroughbreds and ran them on bush tracks. In fact, Nault became his father’s jockey, riding his first race when he was nine-years-old. A product of Ste. Rose, he arrived at Assiniboia Downs when he was 16 and went to work for the legendary Emil Corbel.
“I worked for Emil for a number of years, I don’t even remember how many,” Nault said. “After that, I went on my own exercising and started training, and it all went from there. I was at the Downs for 23 years and then I moved to Alberta for 12 years and then I returned last year so this is my second year back at Assiniboia. I was lucky. I got hooked up with Don Schnell and galloped Escape Clause for the past year and it’s my rookie season as a trainer here at the Downs.”
It’s been a long road for Nault, but now he knows he has a beauty in his barn. After all, on a Friday night when trainer Juan Pablo Silva won three races and his favourite jockey, Alex Cruz, won four — including three in a row — the spotlight was on a former exercise rider from Ste. Rose and his team of Renaldo Cumberbatch and Laura Garrett. It was quite a night.