The forecast may not show it but Sunday is the first day of spring and we are just 36 days away from opening day at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP).
Aged horses all across the province are gearing up for the season at the capital oval and their younger counterparts are being pointed towards the rich stakes events scheduled across the Maritimes.
Those stakes dates were released this week and it all begins in Summerside on May 29. That Sunday card kicks off the stakes schedule at Red Shores at the Summerside Raceway with the Bob Dewar stake for three-year-old pacing colts and the Ruby Chappell stake for three-year-old pacing fillies.
The two- and three-year-old trotters launch their seasons on Tuesday, July 12, in Atlantic Sires Stakes action during Governor's Plate Week racing at the Prince County oval. The two-year-old pacing fillies start their careers off on Wednesday, July 13, while Atlantic Sires Stakes races for the two-year-old pacing colts begins on Thursday, July 14, in Summerside.
In major stakes action, the Maritime Breeder's finals for three-year-old pacing colts and fillies are set for June 18 at the CDP. The biggest change for this season's stakes calendar has the Maritime Breeder's two-year-old trot being contested at the CDP, leaving its former longtime home at the Truro Raceway in Nova Scotia. That Maritime Breeder's final will be held in conjunction with the three-year-old trotters on Oct. 22 in Charlottetown. While the two-year-old trot leaves Truro, the two-year-old pacing colts and fillies finals will remain at the mainland oval on Oct. 23.
The culmination of the Atlantic Sires Stakes remains in Charlottetown with Atlantic Breeder's Crown weekend set for Oct. 8 and 9, with New Brunswick still absent from hosting any sires stakes events in 2016.
The final stop on the stakes circuit will be on Oct. 29 in Charlottetown with the Island Breeder's Finals.
The invitational circuit starts on July 1 in Fredericton with the Walter Dale Memorial Invitational. Of note, the invitational races generally kicked off with the Cecil Ladner Memorial series but the event will not be held in 2016. The inaugural Ladner final was held in 2006 with two legs and a final, won by Huge Success and Brian MacPhee in 1:55.2, until 2015 when entries were hard to come by and eliminations were not needed.
The aged pacing mares start their stakes season on June 19 in the first leg of the Atlantic aged mares series in Summerside. The series will see legs on July 23 in Truro and Sept. 17 in Charlottetown, culminating in an Oct. 2 finale.
My condolences to the family of Leo Peters on his passing Wednesday evening. The 73-year-old Emyvale resident was a former trainer-driver in his own right, passing his love of the sport to sons Mike and Kevin, who both sent horses to the winner's circle in 2015.
Condolences also to the family of Rena Hughes of Charlottetown. The 95-year-old was a longtime race fan and regular at the Charlottetown Driving Park, along with husband Fred, as recently as a few weeks ago when the winter meet shut down.
In a fitting placement, Island cabinet minister Robert Mitchell will take over the harness racing file in addition to his duties as communities, land and environment minister. Mitchell is an avid race fan and strong supporter of the industry and is sure to do a fantastic job as the guiding light for Island harness racing moving forward.
Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.