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In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused the disruption of many equine events around the world, and to varying degrees, events were either postponed or like chuckwagon racing canceled completely.  The start of horse racing in Alberta was delayed for 2 months but for one WPCA driver the wait was worth it.

In March of 2020 the world was suddenly demobilized when an infectious disease called COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. In an effort to restrict further transmission of the disease, many countries decided to undergo complete lock down.  Due to the lock down, all domestic flights, railway service (except goods trains), bus, truck, and vehicles transports were suspended with special exemption to those associated with essential commodities. In almost all the COVID-19 stricken countries, entire educational, commercial, sports and spiritual institutions were closed.

On March 12, 2020, Alberta announced a ban on all meetings of more than 250 people then on March 28th after having reduced mass gatherings to 50 the province further limited gatherings to 15 and on April 23rd  it was announced that it applied to all summer events and festivals. Eventually that number was increased to 200.
The equine industry was also affected and with the season for training horses and scheduled events about to begin, the pandemic could not have hit the horse community at a worse time.  Suddenly events were postponed, canceled or facing severe restrictions with only those people directly involved in horse care permitted to attend barns or events.  In the world of chuckwagon racing, drivers were preparing to start their spring training for the 2020 WPCA Pro Tour. Any thoughts of racing came to a sudden stop on April 29th when the WPCA was forced to cancel their race season.
The horse racing industry in Alberta was also affected with casinos forced to close, the start of the race season delayed and COVID-19 restrictions enforced behind the barns so horses could keep training.  After a 2 month delay, horse racing in Alberta was given the green light to run with COVID-19 Guidelines in affect.
On Sunday September 6, 2020, Horse Racing Alberta celebrated the Alberta Breeders Fall Classic with the best Alberta bred thoroughbred race horses racing for $280,000.00 in purse moneys over 7 races.  One of those races was the Red Diamond Express Handicap featuring the best Alberta bred horses that are 3 years of age and older.  The distance of the race was 6 furlongs (1320 yards). 
A number of WPCA drivers have purchased Alberta breds to race on the wagon once their careers are finished on the race track, however, for WPCA driver Mitch Sutherland, his interest in thoroughbreds goes beyond wagon racing.  The Grande Prairie driver also owns horses that race at various tracks throughout North America including Century Mile on the South side of Edmonton, AB.
Sutherland has owned horses for years and collectively they have started over 230 times with 22 of those starts coming in 2020 where he has 6 first place finishes, 4 seconds and 1 third.
Alot of Sutherlands success in 2020 can be attributed to a 6 year old Alberta bred bay gelding named "STORMCHASER" who he claimed for $12,500.00 in July of 2019. When asked why he claimed the horse Sutherland said, "I liked that he was an Alberta bred and my trainer felt he could improve on him so we gave it a shot."  The move paid off. Since that claim Stormchaser has won over $70,000.00US with one of his biggest wins coming in last weekends Red Diamond Express. 

Coming out of the number 5 post position, Stormchaser was positioned near the front by jockey Rigo Sarmiento then gained the lead at the top of the home stretch before pulling away to a 2 1/4 length victory. It was his 3rd win in his last 5 races with the other 2 races resulting in 2nd place finishes.
In August of 2019 Stormchaser broke the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Century Mile when he stopped the clock in 1:14.66.  The time still holds to this day. 
Will fans see Stormchaser on the wagon one day?  "I bought the horse to race on the track" Mitch says, "He is a big horse with lots of speed so I would definitely try him on the wagon once his career is over on the race track." 
As the WPCA now focuses on the 2021 race season, Mitch Sutherland still has 6 weeks to chase the storm in the sport of thoroughbred racing with Century Mile scheduled to host racing in 2020 until the end of October.
Photo Credit - Julie Brewster (ATOBA)

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