By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — Rafael Zenteno Jr. and Purrsistent took the race to the favourite, but down the stretch, Antonio Whitehall just had too much horse.
Monday night at Assiniboia Downs, Hidden Grace, the four-year-old filly who had actually a tough start this summer, took control of the 25th running of the $30,000 Distaff Stakes down the stretch and beat Purrsistent by four lengths to win the $18,000 first prize.
It was Hidden Grace’s second straight victory. She’s now won 11 of her 13 career races with two second-place finishes earlier this year.
Purrsistent went out quickly and took the lead inside until the quarter pole. That’s when Hidden Grace stuck her head out in front and began to increase the pressure down the backstretch. She took a short lead midway through the final turn and then drew away from Purrsistent who gave it her best, but simply didn’t have enough.
Hidden Grace, who went off as a 1-9 favourite in the four-horse race (in reality, it was only a two-horse match race), paid $2.10 to win.
Hidden Grace is owned by Barry Arnason, Cam Ziprick and Charles Fouillard, trained by Murray Duncan and ridden by leading jockey Antonio Whitehall (who had two wins on Monday night). Purrsistent is also a four-year-old filly, but owned by Dr. Betty Hughes, trained by Devon Gittens and ridden by Rafael Zenteno Jr.
Remember, tonight in Race 3, it’s the $35,000 CTHS Sales Stakes for two-year-old Manitoba-breds. The baby sister to Hidden Grace, undefeated Melisandre, is the 3-5 morning line favourite in a seven-horse field that includes three geldings and three more fillies.
Melisandre was bred in Russell, Man., by Cam Ziprick at Ziprick Thoroughbreds and Charles Fouillard. She is owned by Barry Arnason, True North Thoroughbreds and Charles Fouillard; trained by Michael Nault, and ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr. She won a Maiden Special Weight on July 22 and then cruised to victory in the 31st running of the Debutante Stakes on Aug. 4. It would be a major shock if she lost tonight.
Meanwhile, the man with a lock on the trainer’s championship, Jerry Gourneau, won a pair of races on Monday night. Gourneau won Race 3 with the Mike Powers-owned More Than Stature and then won Race 4 with Henry Witt Jr.’s American League.
Those two victories give Gourneau 59 wins on the season with 10 days remaining in the meet. He is now 19 victories behind the track record of 78, set by elite trainer Tom Dodds during the 117-day meet in 1990. Remarkably, Gourneau is only 19 behind after just 40 days of racing and he could set the new mark in a 50-day meet.
“He’ll have to win an average of two races a day to do it, but the way his horses have been running, it’s a definite possibility,” said Downs CEO Darren Dunn. “And not only is he winning races at a sizzling pace, he’s also winning stakes.”
Tonight, Gourneau has eight horses going to post including the favourites in Races 2 and 5 – Smiley Briley in Race 2 and Valid Thor in Race 5.
Live racing begins tonight at 7:30 p.m.