Uncontested speed from a horse with a heart the size of a rhinoceros isn’t fair. It’s like letting a pitcher with a 104 mph fastball throw from basketball’s free-throw-line distance. Especially when that speed horse, Solo Ring, is finally allowed to get away with some reasonable fractions for a change.

That, in a nutshell, was the story behind Solo Ring’s gritty $31.40 ‘upset’ win in Sunday night’s $50,000 CTHS Sales stake for three- and four-year-olds at Century Mile. “I was quite proud of him,” said Dan Hurley, who owns Solo Ring with his wife, Deb. “He’s got a big heart; he runs hard every time and this time he finally got a break in the early going. He went a half in 44 seconds flat last time out and he still battled all the way to the finish line.”

Sunday, on the other hand and under a very good professional ride from Anastasios Charlais, Solo Ring was able to get away with half a mile in 46.07. And, just as importantly, without anyone churning hard with him. “To be honest with you that was the difference I think,” said Hurley. “I’m not blaming anybody – because it’s nobody’s fault – but most of the time he was going too fast too early. He runs hard every time. He tries so hard. If they would all run like that it would be great. Heart and desire separates a lot of horses.”

It was just enough to separate Solo Ring from Dune d’Oro and Zicatela. At the wire Solo Ring was simply a neck in front of Dune d’Oro, who battled gamely one more time, and another head better than Zicatela, who defeated Solo Ring by a neck just a month ago. “Anastasios gave him a very good ride,” said trainer Dee, short for Deanna, Walper, who is once again having another very solid season having sent out 14 winners from just 61 starts while also adding 10 seconds and 11 thirds for a very high 59 percent in-the-money finish which is pretty much the kind of performance the stable is used to achieving.

“We were hoping to get clear but that all depended on the break and he broke really well,” understated Walper of the start where – breaking so cleanly and quickly it almost seemed like Solo Ring got a head start. The plan was to possibly ease off after the first quarter mile and that’s what Anastasios did,” continued Walper after Solo Ring got that first quarter in a relatively easy 23.72 seconds considering that the four-year-old had set much quicker fractions in all of his 10 career starts other than his second career start last year in a race that was contested in the slop.

Otherwise, Solo Ring has been regularly blasting opening quarter miles in 21 seconds and change. The half mile on Sunday that Solo Ring reached in 46.07 seconds was even more of a huge departure. As well as the 44-second flat quarter Hurley alluded to in his previous start, Solo Ring was regularly setting sail in around 45 seconds. Walper said there has never been any attempt to change Solo Ring’s running style. “It’s the only way that horse has ever run. He’s never shown anything else. We just let him do what he is going to do.”

Another thing that helped Solo Ring in the Sales Stake was that this was his second attempt at going seven furlongs. His first came two weeks ago in that race with the 44-second half where he finished fourth but defeated by just a length and a quarter for it all.

Solo Ring’s connections were left scrambling for a jockey on Sunday. Three different jockeys have been on Solo Ring this year and none were available. Rafael Zenteno Jr. and Shannon Beauregard were both hurt in the same spill last month. Beauregard, who rode Solo Ring in his first start this season suffered a serious injury to her pelvis, and Zenteno Jr., who rode Solo Ring in his next two starts, broke his collarbone. Edgar Zenteno, who rode Solo Ring in his last two starts, returned home to Mexico. Walper named Scott Williams on Sunday but he booked off all his mounts.

“Brian and I discussed it,” Dee Walper said of her husband Brian, who also works in her barn. “Then we talked to Dan (Hurley). And we all agreed on Anastasios. “Solo Ring is a different horse and he needs to be warmed up good before he races. We also wanted to make sure Anastasios would follow our instructions.”

“Anastasios is the fourth-leading rider at Century Mile this year,” said Brian. “He tries hard hard all the time. He doesn’t look to see if you are 40-1 or 8-5. He had never been on Solo Ring before but I’m pretty sure he will be riding a few more for us after his performance on Sunday. He let them come to Solo Ring and then he turned him loose. A very good ride. But it’s still 80 per cent horse and 20 per cent rider.”

What also has to be mentioned is that Solo Ring bettered a solid field on Sunday. “It wasn’t a cheap win that’s for sure. He beat a field that had a lot of horses that ran in the Canadian Derby or were pointed to the Canadian Derby,” Hurley said of the opposition which included two-time stakes winner Maskwecis, who had to be scratched from the Derby because of a quartercrack injury; At Attention and Bare Back Jack, who both ran in the Derby; two-time stakes winner Dune d’Oro; the promising lightly raced Irish Trick and Zicatela.

For Hurley, who picked out Solo Ring from the Alberta Mixed Sale for $12,000, it was his first stakes win in a long time. “The last stake I won was in 2008 with Jazzy Song in the two-year-old CTHS Sales stake. That was a long time ago. Too long ago. Stakes wins don’t come very easy. It’s especially tough for a smaller guy to win a stake.”

Hurley, who has four other horses with Walper, two more of his own and two which he is in partnership, liked a lot of things about Solo Ring when he bought him. “I thought he was a nice looking horse and I liked his breeding – especially his sire, Where’s the Ring,” he said of the stallion, who briefly stood in Alberta but has returned to Ontario. “Where’s the Ring has been a very successful sire,” he said of the son of Seeking the Gold, a black type winner of eight races for earnings of $2.3 million.

“Where’s the Ring is still No. 10 in Canada in terms of earnings this year; he’s always been around there,” he said of one of Canada’s most successful sires whose progeny includes River Maid, a former Canadian champion female sprinter. I also liked the dam, Drum Solo, who is a half-sister to Mr. Shadar, a very good multiple stakes winner who won 12 races for earnings of $322,000. It all worked out.”

Did it ever. While sent away at better than 14-1 in the Sales Stake, Solo Ring has never been worse than fourth in 10 career starts while now posting a very honest record of three wins, four seconds, a third and a fourth. “Dee is really hands-on trainer,” Hurley said of Walper, who runs a medium-sized barn and who got started her training career in 2002 when the Hurleys were one of her first clients. “Eighteen years later I’m still with her so that has to say something. She doesn’t get a lot fanfare or anything but I can leave my horses with her and go away for six months and never worry. I know they will be well fed and well looked after,” he said of Walper. “And she’s married to a guy, Brian, who knows a lot about horses too. As a team they fit together really well.”

It’s always been a collective effort for the Walpers. “We’re like a team,” said Dee. “We’ve always had good staff and good owners. We do what we have to do. Everybody pitches in.”

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