It was shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday when track announcer Dan Jukich warned the crowd at Hastings Racecourse of a “spoiler alert” and proceeded to share the news that 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu had just defeated Serena Williams to capture the U.S. Open tennis championship.
It would the first of many ear-piercing cheers throughout the afternoon with the loudest erupting after hometown hero Mario Gutierrez rode Five Star General to victory in the 74th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 BC Derby.
The margin of victory will go down in history as a nose over Canadian Derby champion Explode but in reality, it was more like a nostril.
The photo finish declared Five Star General the winner after an epic duel to the wire that was, in a word, breathtaking.
Five Star General paid $5.90, $3.30, $2.40, posting a final time of 1:52.43 over the 1 1/8-mile distance.
Both Gutierrez and owner/trainer Glen Todd were visibly touched as Five Star General was fitted with the traditional corsage of 350 of red roses.
“This means a lot to me,” Gutierrez said during an interview with outrider Bailey Heggie on the victory gallop to the winner's circle. “I have been so lucky in life. I will never forget where I came from. Glen got me started in Vancouver and this is my home.”
Following an illustrious career at Hastings where he'd never won a BC Derby, Mario graduated to racing's California circuit and rode two Kentucky Derby winners: I'll Have Another in 2012 and Nyquist in 2016.
Todd was on an emotional roller-coaster throughout the afternoon. Less than an hour earlier he was celebrating a $100,000 BC Oaks victory with veteran rider Richard Hamel on 11-l longshot Amazonian. Final time over 1 1/8 miles was 1:53.10 with Amazonian paying $24.10, $9.60, $6.80.
Todd then capped things off with a $50,000 S.W. Randall Plate win with He's the Reason, again with Hamel in the irons. He's the Reason paid $5.30, $3.60, $2.80 in a final time of 1:51.78.
“This has been a great day for me and my family and all of the hard-working people who work on our team behind the scenes,” Todd said.
“It's been the best day for me personally in 50 years in the racing business.”
Hamel came close to winning three of the four stakes on the 10-race card when 2-5 favourite Here's Hannah, carrying 130 pounds, was caught at the wire by 8-1 longshot Bear following a determined ride by Sahin Civaci in the $50,000 Delta Colleen. It was the first loss at Hastings in 12 starts for Here's Hannah.
Bear, trained by Phil Hall and ridden Civaci – who won three races on the day – paid a handsome $19.40, $4.60, $3.10 in a final time of 1:52.74. Hall has increased his leading trainer's total to 46.
Hamel's three wins Saturday left him two shy of leading jockey Enrique Gonzalez, who's victory on Ezekiel earlier in the day gave him 42 on the season with 14 racing dates remaining on the Hastings schedule,
Live thoroughbred racing resumes next Saturday and Sunday with 1:50 p.m. starts.
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