It might be a little too early to start drawing comparisons to 2018 Sovereign Award winner Escape Clause, but there’s no question budding Manitoba-bred star Hidden Grace has talent, and horsepeople are starting to take notice.

The big bay 3-year-old filly by Going Commando—High Pioneer by Pioneering is now a perfect 4-for-4 after a dominating 5 ¼-length victory in the Chantilly Stakes on June 21 at Assiniboia Downs in her second start as a 3-year-old. In her first 2019 start, she won the restricted Hazel Wright Sire Stakes for Manitoba-sired 3-year-old fillies by 2 ½-lengths at 55 cents on the dollar, and while she was expected to win the Chantilly against open company as the favourite, there were some doubters before the race. There aren’t any now.

Trained by Mike Nault, Hidden Grace came out of the gate on top under jockey Renaldo Cumberbatch and set good fractions of :23.00, :46.00 and :58.60 before coasting home in 1:11.40 for the six furlongs of the Chantilly, one of the best time of the meet to date.

Hidden Grace won her first start as a 2-year-old in the Debutante Stakes at Assiniboia Downs and followed up with another romping victory in the restricted CTHS Sales Stakes before being put away for the winter. In the Debutante, she forced the pace early from the outside before proving to be far too good for her competition, but other than that, no one has headed her in a race.

Hidden Grace has some family to work with. Her dam, High Pioneer by Pioneering (Mr. Prospector—Terlingua), won the Fresa Stakes at Lone Star Park and was stakes placed in the Remington Park Breeders Cup Oaks before going on to produce three stakes winners including two full brothers to Hidden Grace, Paint My Ride and Jet Again, the latter of whom was a legitimate second choice in the Manitoba Derby in 2014 before finishing out of the money. Sire Going Commando (Unbridled’s Song—Regal Miss Copelan by Copelan) has already proven himself as the leading sire in Manitoba numerous times, and his stud career was more recently highlighted by Escape Clause, the top Manitoba-bred of all time. There’s definitely enough blood here to make a runner.

Owned and bred by Cam Ziprick, Barry Arnason and Charles Fouillard, Hidden Grace is trained by Mike Nault, who exercised Hidden Grace and Escape Clause last year for trainer Don Schnell and took over the training of many of the former Schnell horses this year when Schnell went on the road with Escape Clause.

The 52-year-old Nault hails from Laurier, MB, and has spent his entire life with horses. He rode his first horse in the “bushes” at the age of nine and won his first race the same year on a horse named Dark Passage. His father John, a cattle farmer in Laurier, MB, would buy horses at Assiniboia Downs and they would run them in the bushes on weekends.

“We won a ton of races,” said Nault. “I rode until I was 15 and then I came to Assiniboia Downs. I started galloping for trainer Emile Corbel and progressed to training on my own. Nault trained horses for 12 years in Alberta before returning to Manitoba last year to work for Schnell. The best horse on his training resume before Hidden Grace was multiple stakes winner Regal Tigereyes, who was probably easier to handle than Hidden Grace.

“Hidden Grace was difficult to break,” said Nault. “We had to take her back to the farm for some additional education She was bucking everybody off. She’s not just tough, you have to watch her all the time, she’ll prop and she’ll buck. In that way she’s a lot like Escape Clause. She can be a handful in the paddock and she’s tough and tricky to gallop, but when she leaves the latch they better be running on all eight cylinders because she’s a monster. I can’t say she’s better than Escape Clause, because Escape Clause is the best horse I’ve ever been on in my life, but she’s the best horse I’ve ever trained myself.”

Nault has 17 horses under his care now, and he’s thankful for the opportunity.

“It’s a big break for me,” said Nault. “Don recommended me and owners Barry Arnason, True North, Dave Blake and The Young and The Rest of Us Stable were willing to give me a shot. I’m very thankful for that. Don’s an excellent trainer with a great feeding program. Whenever he enters one it’s tough to beat. He and I have a pretty good relationship and when I need help, he’s more than willing to give me advice. I talked to him the other day. He’s getting bored. I told him to claim another one.”

Escape Clause is slated to run in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (Grade 2) at Delaware Park on Saturday, July 13 (results unavailable prior to press time). Hidden Grace is expected to run the same day in the $30,000 R.C. Anderson Stakes at Assiniboia Downs.

Could be a great day for Manitoba.