Smiles and cheers were in abundance on Labour Day at the Downs as favourites and second choices won six of the eight races on the card. There wasn't much for longshot hunters, but they certainly came close in the $50,000 Matron Stakes.
The biggest win payoff of the day arrived in the second race courtesy of Lise Pruitt's Something Posative ($11.70), but the winner of the seventh race, the Matron Stakes, had to survive a foul claim in order to prevent a 12-1 shot from taking the big money home.
The Matron figured to be one of the best races of the year at Assiniboia Downs and it lived up to expectations with a stellar field that included the top older mare in Alberta, Tempered Sapphire; former Woodbine allowance filly Can't Use Nellie; local star Go Go Lolo, who had won four in a row including all three stakes here for older mares; multiple stakes winner Portales; Assiniboia Oaks winner Ciaran's Prize; last year's champion older mare Hello, coming off her best race of the year; and longshot rallier Key To Glory, who had already been stakes placed this year.
Portales opened a clear lead early in the Matron under jockey Alexis Batista and set fractions of 23.20 and 48.00 before being engaged into the final turn through six furlongs in a solid 1:13.40. Both Can't Use Nellie and Ciaran's Prize made strong bids outside Portales on the final turn while favourite Tempered Sapphire, inside, and second choice Go Go Lolo, in the two-path, were gearing up behind the leading trio. Hello was also starting to roll after being widest throughout.
Portales turned back Can't Use Nellie and Ciaran's Prize turning for home at about the same time as Tempered Sapphire was trying to find clear running room from the inside and Go Go Lolo was in full flight in the three-path with her nose just outside the favourite's rear end. Tempered Sapphire appeared to shift out a path looking for room in late turn, causing Go Go Lolo to clip heels with her. Tempered Sapphire continued outwards, found clear running room outside in the stretch, and surged by a gutsy Portales late. Go Go Lolo steadied, dropped back, regrouped and rallied inside, but by then it was much too late.
Tempered Sapphire drew out under Chris Husbands to win by 2 3/4-lengths over Portales, Ciaran's Prize kept coming under Quincy Hamilton to finish third, 3/4-lengths behind Portales, and Hello finished willingly wide to miss the show spot by a nose. Go Go Lolo re-rallied under Travis Cunningham to finish fifth, 4 1/4-lengths behind the winner. The final time for the 1 1/8-miles over the fast strip was 1:52.60.
Cunningham lodged a claim of foul against Chris Husbands, the rider of the winner, for interference on the turn. After what seemed like an eternity, the Stewards ruled there was insufficient video evidence to disqualify the winner and Tempered Sapphire was led into an impressive Winner's Circle that included Canadian film star Adam Beach. In fairness to the Stewards, this was probably a tougher call than it looked. They had more in-depth views of the incident than we had, and they've made no mistakes this year.
A 5-year-old bay mare by Tempered Appeal-Gilded Diamond by Gilded Time, Tempered Sapphire was winning her third stakes in a row in the Matron, having previously won the $50,000 Mademoiselle and the $75,000 City of Edmonton Distaff at Northlands Park by 13 3/4-lengths and 10 1/4-lengths respectively. She has now earned $247,453 from a record of 7-5-5 in 24 starts.
Trained by Rod Cone for Garry, Roland and Lauri Kugler, Tempered Sapphire paid $3.40 to win. Had the foul claim against her been upheld, Portales would have been declared the winner and paid $26 and change.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda?