Mad hatters

JOHN SHORT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

The biggest racing day of the year at Northlands Park - Derby Day - is only two weekends ahead.

Public interest will mount on Wednesday when the entry list is completed, but behind the scenes, plenty is going on.

"Everybody works that day (Aug. 25)," said Sandra Symbaluk, recently named promotions manager at the Spectrum. "We're already gearing up. I'm so excited I've already bought my hat."

HAT PARADE

She referred to the hat parade - "elegant" or "creative" - a fun part of the thoroughbred racing festival for the last eight or nine years. Northlands always finds ways to recognize the best entries.

"Some of the creative hats are absolutely amazing. Most of the women walk around in them all day."

Tables at Colors, the race-day restaurant, were gone "in about eight minutes" after they went on sale last week, but those who missed out have a chance to do some partying in the infield on race day.

"We have seats and tents in the infield for the chuckwagon races during Super Ex, but otherwise our fans get only a few chances each year to enjoy an event from there," Symbaluk said.

For her, it's a joy to stand in the infield and see the crowd across the track. "We don't charge for attendance so it's impossible to know how many fans there are, but it's the biggest crowd of the year."

All of which leads to the main ingredient: the horses.

Barring the unforeseen, It's obvious that Footprint, Alberta's most consistent three-year-old, will be in the field. His victories have been hotly contested, so this race - for a whopping 1 3/8 miles - figures to be especially harsh.

Codio, the import from Iowa who finished a solid third in the Count Lathum, is likely to stay for the $300,000 test.

Every year, hints arrive from Winnipeg and Toronto that tough colts and geldings are the on way. So far, there is nothing official.

Racing secretary Fred Hilts was too wise to be drawn into a discussion of trainers's plans at this stage. "There are good three-year-olds around," he said. "We'll just have to wait."


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