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Saxon Saga Loves the Distance, Wins $50,000 Derby Trial

July 18, 2023 8:27 AM | Sports

By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)

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Assiniboia Downs

Saxon Saga - Renaldo Cumberbatch

Saxon Saga with Renaldo Cumberbatch in the irons, hits the wire at Assiniboia Downs on Monday, July 17, 2023. (JASON HALSTEAD PHOTO)

Heavily-favoured Chicago’s Gray might have proven something to his trainer Murray Duncan on Monday night. The three-year-old gelding with two stakes wins in his stable this season, is probably a sprinter.

Two turns and one mile was too much for Chicago’s Gray on Monday night, as his biggest rival, Saxon Saga challenged for the lead on the backstretch, took control on the final turn and romped to a 3 1/2-length victory in the 29th running of the Manitoba Derby Trial at Assiniboia Downs.

In what turned out to be an odd race, Saxon Saga with Renaldo Cumberbatch aboard went off at 5-2 and paid $7.00 to win, $3.00 to place and $2.30 to show as the 2-5 pre-race favourite, Chicago’s Gray finished way back in last place. Of course, to be fair, it was only a four-horse race as three of the seven entries were scratched. The stewards scratched Discovery Peak and Mano Dura while trainer Steven Gaskin scratched Viral.

Green Amazon (12-1) finished second and paid $7.00 to place and $28.70 to show. Rough Customer (8-1) was third and paid $26.50 to show. A $2 5-1 Exactor paid $87.00. A $2 5-1-2 Triactor paid $194.30.

Saxon Saga, a three-year-old dark bay/brown gelding, is owned by Wind Dancer Stable and Bill Meikle and trained by Wendy Anderson. In seven starts this year, Saxon Saga now has four wins, two seconds and a third.

After two wins, a third and a sixth-place finish at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco, Saxon Saga moved to Winnipeg and won an allowance race in his first start at ASD on May 23. He then finished second to Chicago’s Gray in both the Prime Time Overnight Stakes and the Golden Boy Stakes.

Monday night, Saxon Sage proved he’s a Manitoba Derby contender, winning easily in the Derby Trial.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s Gray’s trainer, Murray Duncan, was concerned that his two-time stakes winner at five furlongs (Prime Time Overnight Stakes) and six furlongs (Golden Boy Stakes) might not be able to handle the one-mile distance around two turns. His fears were confirmed on Monday night. Chicago’s Gray went way too wide on the first turn, battled back to challenge for the lead on the backstretch and then was wide again on the final turn as Saxon Saga simply blew him away.

Jockey Jorge Carreno asked for a little extra as they headed down the stretch, but Chicago’s Gray had nothing in the tank and finished well back of the field.

It’s now back to the drawing board for Duncan and his team as owners Roll the Dice Stable, Royce Finley and Arnason Farms have to wonder if their horse can possibly handle the 1 1/8-mile route that the Derby demands. While Saxon Saga proved Monday night that it can probably compete at the distance, Chicago’s Gray looked more like a sprinter than a distance horse that can handle anything more than six or seven furlongs.

And, of course, this will be the most important Manitoba Derby in the race’s history. Not only is it a $125,000 race for the first time ever, but it’s also part of the Western Canadian Triple Crown, a three-race stakes series that offers an extra $100,000 to any horse that wins all three races – the $125,000 Manitoba Derby in Winnipeg on Aug. 7, the $200,000 Canadian Derby in Edmonton on Aug. 26, and the $125,000 B.C. Derby in Vancouver on Sept. 16.

“It’s going to be one of the most interesting Manitoba Derbies in years based on it being the first leg of the newly created Western Canadian Triple Crown series,” said Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs. “That interprovincial cooperation should really put a spotlight on the best three-year-olds in Western Canada.

“This series was a year in the making and took a lot of collaboration but certainly, we have the kind of confidence that the results are going to bear fruit. Assiniboia Downs should benefit in field size by being the first leg, based, of course, on the fact that if a horse sweeps all three legs, it’s another $100,000 in bonus money. There is every reason to believe we’ll have a full gate and you can sense the excitement and the interest in the race. It’s almost palpable around the property. Folks are trying to find a Derby horse. We expect the interest is going to be very strong outside the province. We couldn’t be more excited. It should be epic.”

Don’t forget, there is live racing at Assiniboia Downs again tonight. First post is 7:30 p.m.