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First stakes race of Hastings season a fitting tribute to the great George Royal


April 20, 2011     E-mail this page to a friend!

Story by Greg Douglas, Hastings Racecourse

It has been written in horse racing annals that if George Royal did anything wrong in his career, it was being born the same year (1961) as Northern Dancer.

George Royal won nine consecutive stakes races as a 3-year-old but was overshadowed in 1964 as a result of Northern Dancer becoming the first Canadian-bred to win the Kentucky Derby.

The following year George Royal won the San Juan Capistrano Handicap on the turf at Santa Anita and also the Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine. They were performances that led to his being the first B.C.-bred horse to win Canadian Horse of the Year honors. (In 1966, George Royal repeated as winner of the San Juan Capistrano in Johnny Longden’s last race as a jockey.)

Inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (1976) and B.C. Horse Racing Hall of Fame (1986), there is a bronze statue of George Royal that stands today in the paddock at Hastings Racecourse.

The $50,000 George Royal traditionally launches the Stakes season at Hastings Racecourse and the 2011 edition goes as the 7th race on Friday afternoon. Emotions will be running high when one of George Royal’s original owners – Robert W. Hall – visits the winner’s circle as Guest Decorator. Mr. Hall and Vancouver furniture dealer Ernie Hammond purchased George Royal for $1,500 in 1961. His career earnings totaled $323,693.

This year’s edition of the George Royal boasts a full field of 12, led by Washington’s 2010 Horse of the Year Noosa Beach. Noosa Beach, installed as the morning-line favorite at 3-to-1, was a win machine last summer, taking the Seattle Handicap, Budweiser Handicap, Mt. Rainier Handicap, Longacres Mile (G3), and the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic in succession, all at Emerald Downs.

The only horse with a 2011 race showing on his form is Sassou, third in his most recent start, a $50,000 claiming event at Santa Anita on March 27. Sassou, 5-to-1 on the morning line, reeled off three straight wins at Santa Anita prior to that start.

The Easter Holiday weekend offers three days of racing at Hastings with start times Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1:20 p.m. Saturday’s feature is the $50,000 Brighouse Belles Stakes for fillies and mares.