The success that owner Larry Carter enjoyed with Elite Mercedes was unprecedented, but two short years later he further established himself as a dominant and influential force in the Downs' stakes schedule with Monsoon "The Machine" Rain.
While the Downs has never really promoted the concept, it has in its stakes races for older horses, a trio of races which is known to some as the "Triple Crown".
The first leg of the local triple for older horses is the one-mile Wheat City Stakes. The second race in the series is the 1 1/16-mile R. J. Speers. And the third and final race, normally run just prior to the end of the meet, is the prestigious and grueling Gold Cup, at a distance of 11/8-miles.
Elite Mercedes, a $15,000 claimer from Churchill Downs, was managed by veteran Downs' trainer Emile Corbel in 2006. Elite won all three of his starts at the Downs that year and became the first horse in Downs' history to win all three stakes in the same year.
Elite's "Triple Crown" win at the Downs was part of a six-race win streak that he put together from May to September 2006. Many others had come close, but Larry Carter's 9-year-old grey/roan gelding made history that year and pocketed more than $100,000 in purse money in the process -- colour Larry proud!
In the fall of 2007 Carter happened upon the opportunity to purchase a seven-horse package. Included in the group was a smart, good-looking, one-time $550,000 U.S. yearling purchase by the name of Monsoon Rain, whom Larry referred to as the "perfect gentleman".
The then 6-year-old bay with a bowed tendon was the jewel in the package that Larry Carter was looking for, but Monsoon was going to require some careful and intense handling.
After some much needed rest and medical attention, Monsoon Rain returned to the track in 2008. Noted local authority in equine medicine, Dr. Norm Elder told Carter that Monsoon had a 50/50 chance of overcoming his physical issues.
Let's just say that Larry Carter's patience was rewarded. In 2008, trainer Martin Drexler brought Monsoon along slowly and after fourth and second-place finishes in June, Monsoon reeled off five straight victories including the Wheat City, R. J. Speers and Gold Cup and $110,000 in purse money!
How is it that we go almost 50 years without a horse winning our "Triple Crown" and then have two horses owned by the same person accomplish the feat two years apart? Well, it's because we were lucky enough to have real estate businessman Larry Albert Carter, who loves the sport and our local track. He makes no secret of the fact that Assiniboia Downs is one of his favourite race tracks!
Larry is a Saskatchewan native who makes his home in Calgary with his wife Sue. He got his start in the racing business in 1986 in Saskatoon and his first year at the Downs was 1987. He was also fortunate enough to have the legendary Bill Shoemaker ride his horse Reinhold to victory at the Downs on June 3, 1987, giving "The Shoe" career victory 8,667.
Carter has high praise for the Downs and the way they treat horsemen.
"They always look for ways to make good things happen!" he said.
Where are Elite and Monsoon now you ask?
The winter of 2006/07 was a tough one for 9-year-old Elite Mercedes and he just wasn't his old self in 2007, so Larry retired him. Monsoon Rain also ran until he was nine, going a respectable 1-2-0 from six starts in 2011, but his time had come as well, and he was retired.
How much do Larry and Sue care about their retired champions?
I'm proud to tell you that both horses are together, living out their retirement on a farm in Okotoks, Alberta, just south of Calgary. The now 17-year-old Elite Mercedes has some health issues, but 12-year-old Monsoon Rain is doing fine!
Thanks, Larry and Sue, for taking such good care of our only "Triple Crown" champions.
Please say hi to the boys for us!