People who had never been to the track before came just to see him
This week’s featured stakes race is the 53rd running of the $30,000 Free Press Stakes. The Free Press, run on Father's Day Sunday, June 16, is the first major stakes race for 3-year-olds and up.
The Winnipeg Free Press Trophy (see photo) was presented to the Downs in 1960 for an annual competition. In the early years the race was a marathon event, with the inaugural running of the race contested over what might still be “Canada’s Longest Race” at 2 ¼-miles.
Now a six furlong sprint championship, the Free Press has featured some of the finest horses ever to run at the Downs including three-time winner PC’s Bluff, two-time winner Smoky Cinder and other notables such as Monsoon Rain, Nephrite and the late Bert Blake’s Nifty.This week’s honouree is a two-time winner of the race (2002, 2003), Clint Willson’s Kalfaari.
Federico Tesio said that “A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character.”
Kalfaari is one of the all-time greats at Assiniboia Downs, and he was definitely a fan favourite. He had an exceptional set of lungs, a huge heart and tons of character. As impressive as his lifetime stats are: 24 starts in five short years of racing in which he collected 15 wins, three seconds and two third place finishes with earnings of $232,964; what people remember most about him is his character.
On the one hand he was a fierce competitor; famous for taunting his opponents in the drive to the wire, yet he was as tame as could be around children, who would gather to feed him carrots!
And who could forget the 2001 racing season when the 4-year old Kalfaari and Ed Pawluk’s 7-year old Smoky Cinder duked it out in the R. J. Speers, Wheat City and Free Press, with a slight edge going to Smoky, but we’ll leave his story for another day.
Kalfaari’s last race at our west-end oval came on June 15, 2003 in the Free Press Stakes, and the outcome of that race you ask? A win of course!
In the end, which came much too soon in May 2004, Kalfaari’s huge heart gave out on him, but his accolades still echo. Gary Danelson called him “special”. Darren Dunn said that he was the peoples’ horse at the Downs. Owner Clint Willson described him as if he were a member of his family. And trainer Jared Brown thought it would be long time before we ever saw another like him.
Kalfaari was indeed a rare and special horse. He had the charisma and ability to draw people to the track. Race fans adopted him as their own and people who had never been to the races before came just to see…
“The Peoples’ Horse.”