All in the family

JOHN SHORT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Somehow, it seems right for a horse saddled by Rod Cone to hold the rail for tonight's first race.

The veteran trainer is doing his best to prove that it is possible, after all, to come home again. He spent most of the last five years at Fort Erie, west of Toronto, but returned this spring to Alberta, where he has had most of his success.

Still memorable for many is the Canadian Derby victory by Cozzy Grey, a reputed slow starter who jumped to the lead in Alberta's biggest annual race and won with extreme ease on the front end.

Also easy to recall is A Fleets Dancer, another Derby winner who went on to compete in the famed Louisiana Derby and is still active, although the bad-tempered stallion has collected more than $1 million in career purses.

Delays in having Cone's stable of about a dozen horses shipped from Calgary to Edmonton in time for tonight's opening thoroughbred card kept him away from his Northlands barn until yesterday afternoon, but still he managed to have three of them ready for tonight, starting with Thelastboyscout in the 6 1/2-furlong opener.

While building his solid reputation, Cone has always found time to steer his 23-year-old stepson, Craig Smith, into the training dodge.

The likeable youngster had been accepted for business courses at the University of Alberta when he elected to stay around racing. He planned to gallop horses and perhaps find other jobs in the industry when Cone helped steer him to a different path.

At 19, Smith got his trainer's licence. Now, he trains a promising group next door to Cone's barns.

"Rod and my mom (Jennifer Smith) gave me Markerville Express and he was my first winner, with Peter Wong in the irons. I'll never forget."

For the record, Craig Smith spent most of yesterday taking care of Cone's horses - and his own - while his mentor was in transit from Calgary.

JCSHORT@SHAW.CA


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