Kives' classy chestnut speedster one of the best ever to race at Downs
This past Monday marked the 37th running of the $30,000 Canada Day Stakes for fillies and mares. Officially it may have been the 37th running, but a quick glance back at the record books reveals that a race to celebrate Canada’s birthday dates all the way back to 1958 when the Downs first opened.
The conditions of the race have changed over the years, so the horse we honour today is neither a filly nor a mare. The horse we remember and pay homage to here is Phil Kives’ (K4 Stables) Intercontinent, who won the Canada Day stakes in 1981.
The list of previous Canada Day Stakes winners is comprised of some of the best stakes horses to ever race at the Downs. On the male side of the ledger winners included Lexico, Turn To Rule, Victor’s Pride and Merry’s Jay, while female winners are impressively represented by the likes of Miss Missile, Preservata, Golden Stripe and Ruby’s Big Band.
Who knew? Intercontinent, Northern Spike, and Rangatira have the distinction of having their names appear most in the list of track records at Assiniboia Downs, having set or equaled records on four occasions. But the edge in this “race” goes to Intercontinent as the all-time record setter at the Downs. Intercontinent set four track records at the Downs, Northern Spike set three and equaled another and Rangatira set two records and equaled two more.
Kives purchased Intercontinent in June 1980 at the Belmont Horse of Racing Age Sale for $71,000, but he wasn’t the first Winnipegger to own the chestnut speedster. Well-known local horseman Dan Kennedy’s wife Wilma purchased Intercontinent as a yearling at Saratoga for $20,000 in 1975. Mrs. Kennedy raced Intercontinent until 1979. He was then sold as part of a 12-horse package.
In 1980 Intercontinent made three starts for Kives and won twice. In 1981 he made eight starts at our local oval, won five of them, placed second once and finished third twice. He also set track records for 5½ furlongs on May 10, 1981 (1:03); 6 furlongs on May 18, 1981 (1:09 1/5); and about 7 furlongs on June 7, 1981 (1:24 4/5).
In 1982 Intercontinent started five times at the Downs, winning twice and placing second three times. He also set a track record for about 7 furlongs on June 22, 1982 (1:24 2/5). Assiniboia Downs’ all-time leading jockey Ken Hendricks was aboard Intercontinent for all four record-setting performances, and it goes without saying that trainer Don Gray did a masterful job with his charge. Who would have expected anything else!
Arguably Intercontinent’s most impressive run had to be his assault on the 6 furlong track record on May 18, 1981 when he was clocked in 1:09 1/5, bettering Sunraysed’s previous mark of 1:09 3/5. Intercontinent’s record would stand until October 8, 1989 when Nephrite set the current mark of 1:09. But on Intercontinent’s May 18 run, he went the first quarter in 22 1/5 and ran a sizzling half mile in 44 3/5 before stopping the clock at 1:09 1/5.
Intercontinent could go long or short, but was at his best in sprints, and he was a far better horse on a fast track than he was in the mud. And who could forget his classic duels with Elman Guttormson’s Major Enterprise in 1981. Intercontinent and the Major ran one-two that year on four occasions with Intercontinent finding the wire first each time.
Major Enterprise was a great horse but Intercontinent had the Major’s “number” so to speak. From 1980 to 1982 the two titans met nine times at the Downs, but only once did the Major finish in front of Intercontinent.
I have no doubt that Intercontinent would garner more than his fair share of votes as the best horse ever to race at the Downs. A genuine record-setter with high-class speed, he was a champion among champions.