This week Picks & Ponderings is going green. We're not talking ways to help the planet, but instead the greenery of grass. Monday's (rescheduled from Saturday Sept. 12) program at all-turf Kentucky Downs is previewed by Nicolle Neulist, which is headlined by the G3 Kentucky Turf Cup and three ungraded stakes on their undercard. This piece takes a figurative road trip to Canada. Headlining the action are three graded grass stakes. The G1 Woodbine Mile, the G1 Northern Dancer Turf for long-winded types, and the G2 Canadian Stakes for the ladies compromise the card with the races providing clues to the Breeders' Cup or to Canadian International Day in the Fall. The G3 Bold Venture on polytrack rounds out the stakes quartet.
North American television audiences can catch action live from Woodbine on Sunday from 4:30pm ET to 6:00 pm ET on Fox Sports 1. Canadian television audiences can catch the Woodbine Mile in a live telecast on TSN2 (which also has a live stream) also airing from 4:30 pm ET to 6:00 pm ET. The Woodbine Mile and Canadian Stakes are slated for telecast in both the FS1 and TSN telecasts, with the TSN telecast showing the Northern Dancer on tape delay. Whether you're on the US side or the Canadian side of the border, each and every live day of Woodbine's thoroughbred meeting is streamed through their website and also is available through the free Horse Races Now app. Woodbine has also designated #womile as the event's Twitter hashtag.
All purse values are given in Canadian funds unless denoted and all selections are made for "turf only" in races carded for the turf. At publish time the rail is set for the zero position. All races in this piece are scheduled for Sunday September 13th.
HABIBI is cross-entered to both the G1 Northern Dancer Stakes and the G2 Canadian Stakes. She will run in the G1 Northern Dancer.
Updated on September 13th to include scratches in the Bold Venture and Woodbine Mile.
Woodbine Race Course -- Race 3 -- G3 Bold Venture Stakes -- Six and one-half furlongs on polytrack -- post time 1:55 pm ET
This stakes on polytrack carries a purse of $150,000 and will be contested on the polytrack - the only one of the stakes this weekend not on the green. For three-and-up types going six and a half furlongs, it pays homage to Bold Venture. By St Germains out of Ultimus mare Possible, he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1936 - while getting what many felt in the Derby win was a perfect trip taking advantage of negative circumstances of others. A win in Baltimore provided justification. As a sire, he produced 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault and 1950 Derby winner Middleground - the two foremost horses in the history of (now beleaguered) Texas racing. As a stakes, the race has been a one turn fixture in Canada since 1956 when Fort Erie contested it for the first time. ESSENCE HIT MAN (2012-13) and CALGARY CAT (2014) are prior winners in this year's field. Historically, Woodbine stakes namesakes Nearctic (1958) and Frost King (1982) are among the notable victors, as is double winner Fatal Bullet (2008-09).
Quite a bit of front-end speed has signed on for the G3-CDN Bold Venture, a race that moves from mid-July to mid-September. All that front end speed should give CALGARY CAT something to rally into. Eurico Rosa de Silva climbs aboard for Kevin Attard. Winner of this race last year as well as the G2-CDN Kennedy Road last Autumn, his only clunker came with a bad break at seven panels in the G3-CDN Vigil earlier this year. Perhaps he had a bad day, as he returned after a small break in a restricted stakes at Woodbine and reported home a winner. He took the non-graded prep to this race last time out, also doing it in a zippy time. While he'll need someone to challenge ESSENCE HIT MAN on the front, that appears likely with STACKED DECK in the box. As such it becomes possible these speeds set it up for a closer, and CALGARY CAT is that - as well as the only dyed-in-the-wool closer in the field. While CALGARY CAT is the closer of the closers, ESSENCE HIT MAN is the speed of the speed. Unseen between the 2013 G2-CDN Kennedy Road Stakes and a small stakes a month ago, ESSENCE HIT MAN has two victories in this race to his credit and will bring his speed to the table. Perhaps he needed one first off the year-plus layoff and going second off the shelf could be helpful to ESSENCE HIT MAN. He's got bullet workouts after his second last time out, suggesting he could hold the form or improve on what he showed after the tightener. Short field dynamics and pace targets aid a presser, and PUNTROOSKIE gets the call here. At Gulfstream in the winter he hung around with graded stakes types like Speechify and Rock Fall. At Woodbine in the Spring he got pieces of the pie in the Jacques Cartier and the G3-CDN Vigil. He took advantage of an unfulfilled two-other-than allowance condition three back and two back, and lost by a nose three back and won two back. PUNTROOSKIE may have been too close to the pace last time in the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes where he fell back gradually and was fifth behind CALGARY CAT and ESSENCE HIT MAN. However that last stakes was at six furlongs and the extra distance could play into his hands - his last win as at six and a half panels.
#5 CALGARY CAT (1/1)
#3 ESSENCE HIT MAN (5/2)
#6 PUNTROOSKIE (15/1)
Longshot: Original longshot SPEIGHTSONG scratched, so the longshot writer will sit quietly and enjoy a roast beef sandwich.
Woodbine Race Course -- Race 6 -- G1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes -- One and one-half miles on Turf -- post time 3:32 pm ET
If "Maury" and its ubiquitous paternity tests had an episode centered on horse racing, chances are Maury would be saying "You ARE the Father!" to Northern Dancer. Northern Dancer became the sire of over a hundred stakes winners, and created sire lines that permeate racing even a quarter century after his death. His progeny have touched nearly every corner of the world from Europe (Sadler's Wells) to Japan (Northern Taste) to America (Dance Smartly, Storm Cat). He commanded at one time a million dollar stud fee. While his career in the breeding shed has been exemplary, it sometimes overshadows his work on the track where he won the Derby, Preakness, and the Queen's Plate (he's a Canadian-bred!). The race honoring Northern Dancer began life as the Niagara Handicap at Fort Erie in 1953, and moved to the turf a few years later. Woodbine took over hosting rights in 1985. Though it began as a miler's race, it's been contested at a twelve-furlong lap around Woodbine's turf since the mid 1970s (though a few runnings in the 1990s were at ten furlongs). No runner of this race has taken the Breeders' Cup Turf or Pattison Canadian International in the same year, though Chief Bearhart did win the BC Turf a year before winning this race in 1998. Champs Elysses won this race in 2008 and a year later took down the Pattison Candian International. For three-and-up types, this year's running carries a $300,000 purse and Grade One status. They'll go a full circuit - twelve furlongs - in this event.
HPIBet, a Canadian ADW that traces ownership to Woodbine, serves as this race's sponsor. LUCKY SPEED's first try over the Woodbine weeds was back in the G2-CDN Nijnsky II Stakes at nine furlongs. But don't be fooled by that fourth place finish. After he won the G3 American St. Leger at Arlington, his rider basically said the race was a prep designed to get him going for longer races - and the plan worked to the tune of 3/1 odds on Arlington Million Day. LUCKY SPEED's connections - trainer Peter Schiergn and rider Andrasch Starke - take the trip north to Woodbine, and this is a logical choice here. Winning at the three turn St. Leger and going to two turns might seem a cutback, but he's only trimming a furlong and a half off the distance. Moreover, Arlington form and Woodbine form are quite reciprocal - a good performance at one track usually highlights a good performance at the other. Tossing that nine furlong steppingstone, and LUCKY SPEED looks to go third start in North America, primed to duplicate his effort on Million Day. Likely, he'll be chasing down INTERPOL on the lead. Winner of the ten furlong G2-CDN Sky Classic last out, he pressed off honest splits in that event. He moves to a full two-turn twelve furlongs in the Northern Dancer and graduated at twelve furlongs last fall over the local lawn - while also was second in the Breeders' Stakes for Canadian-breds also at a mile and a half. INTERPOL appears to be a plodding one-speed type, but this race drew a dearth of speed and with an aggressive ride he could steal this race. However, he's meeting a quality closer in LUCKY SPEED who this space thinks will tag him in the late stages. Still, the pre-race intelligence on him points to a must-use in the exactors and triactors. Sophomore DANISH DYNAFORMER takes an ambitious step up in this event. Last seen in the Canadian Triple Crown races - he was second in the Queen's Plate over the synthetic, turned in an excusable sixth on the dirt down at Fort Erie, and won the Breeders' Stakes over twelve turfy furlongs. It's a big step going from Canadian-breds to graded stakes company, but he's getting weight for being a sophomore taking on elders, he's won at twelve furlongs over the local course, and his trainer Roger Attfield is a cagey turf trainer who isn't here for a free bowl of poutine.
#5 LUCKY SPEED (5/2)
#6 INTERPOL (6/1)
#3 DANISH DYNAFORMER (4/1)
Longshot:#7 ALDOUS SNOW (8/1), like INTERPOL and DANISH DYNAFORMER, is a winner at the distance and surface of the G1 (editorial comment: should be a G2) Northern Dancer Turf. His win was two back in a local G3, and he bested Dynamic Sky and an in-form Hyper who last checked in with a third in the G3 American St. Leger behind LUCKY SPEED. ALDOUS SNOW is a horse whose five career wins have come all at Woodbine. While he needs to take his course with him, he's a local who gets a course he likes. Perhaps the wide trip doomed him last time in the G2-CDN Sky Classic. ALDOUS SNOW does his best work when closing off a slow pace and if INTERPOL strangles back, he can get the pace scenario he needs for his best over a course that he likes best.
Woodbine Race Course -- Race 9 -- G2 Canadian Stakes -- One and one-eighth miles on Turf -- post time 5:12 pm ET
A spot in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf field goes to the winner of the Grade Two, $300,000 Canadian Stakes, a race that also functions as a steppingstone to the G1 E. P. Taylor Stakes in October. The race with the self-evident name started at Greenwood Raceway. A move to Woodbine came in 1964 and in 1970 the race acquired the gender restriction it has today; being for fillies and mares aged three and up. Two Woodbine stakes nameplates - Bessarabian (1986) and Alywow (1994) count themselves as heroines of this race. Never Retreat (2011) stands out too, as she won the G2 Canadian in her campaign that saw the Team Block-owned and Chris Block-trained filly take Canadian Horse of the Year honors back to Chicagoland. Due to Woodbine's configuration, this race goes at one turn.
The 15/1 morning line quote may be enticing, but it looks inflated to this observer. Even at two-thirds of that TICKING KATIE has some positives for her that are hard to look past. Her effort two back on Belmont's course with give was a win after a bad break. Last time she stepped up to the restricted De La Rose at the Spa for six figures. In that race she ran evenly at the head of the stalking pack while going wide in the stretch. Going wide at Saratoga on their inner course isn't a positive and perhaps TICKING KATIE, with her win at Belmont and some spotty European form, will relish a move to a course with more sweeping turns than the tight two-turned Saratoga Inner. She also gets a filly and mare turf division that's still in shambles. She's getting first-time lasix for competent local conditioner Brian Lynch, who recruits Luis Saez to pilot. The negative on her is she might need to be ridden close to the pace, but that may not be a bad thing in a race lacking a true one-way speed. Grade Two winner HOOP OF COLOUR has spent her summer in the Witness Protection Program. She was last seen winning the G2 Santa Ana at this race's nine panels in March at Santa Anita and hasn't been out since then. Brought to you by the Motion/Flaxman Holdings trainer/owner team that brought Main Sequence, they bring in this runner that in her five career starts has never been worse than fourth. A graduate in a stakes in her second start overseas, she's a runner that would appreciate firm ground (given her SoCal success) but would do fine on ground with give (her win overseas was on "good" ground). She's done her work pressing average-to-slow paces and such a pace scenario should come to fruition in the G2 Canadian Stakes. STRUT THE COURSE is the local "horse for the course". Her five starts over the Woodbine turf show two wins and two seconds, though she had a troubled trip in the G2 Nassau over these weeds going a one-turn mile. Despite the traffic jam she still checked in only two lengths behind the winner. Though versatile enough to handle polytrack (as evidence by a 14: 6-2-2 record over it and a second last out in a G3), she does have credible recent turf form over Woodbine grass. Two back in the G2-CDN Dance Smartly she won and got the better of Watsdachances, the next-out G1 Beverly D. winner. Last out came a second over the polytrack, and she's run her best turf figures this year in the campaign kick-off Nassau and victorious Dance Smartly.
#6 TICKING KATIE (15/1)
#3 HOOP OF COLOUR (4/1)
#4 STRUT THE COURSE (5/2)
Longshot: We couldn't do a turf race without a discussion on some horse sired by Kitten's Joy - the all everything turf sire. #10 COPPER KITTEN (20/1) is that progeny's addition to this Meow Mix of a G2. COPPER KITTEN is a local that is testing deep waters in the G2 Canadian, given that the last time she won was a two-other-than allowance in the summer. But her try in the three-other-than group was a third to OVERHEARD. And she also wasn't beaten that much in the G2 Dance Smartly (less than two lengths) and had an icky-tasting trip in the G2 Nassau. If an allowance-class horse is going to spoil a stakes party, it's going to be on her home course. And it's going to be in a questionable stakes. In a G2 that doesn't have the Lexie Lous or Never Retreats and on her home turf, COPPER KITTEN could provide home team toteboard fireworks.
Woodbine Race Course -- Race 10 -- G1 Woodbine Mile -- One mile (one turn) on Turf -- post time 5:45 pm ET
Office and electronics company Ricoh sponsors the G1 Woodbine Mile, which has a million dollars up for grabs and awards the top finisher a Breeders' Cup Mile berth. The Woodbine Mile began its life in 1988 at Woodbine, but not at a mile. A ten-furlong event, it was run as the Molson Export Challenge in its early years and was trimmed to nine furlongs. In 1997 the race shifted to the configuration it has now: a mile on grass for the three-and-up variety. Like the Canadian Stakes, this is a one-turn affair. In the dirt days, the race counts Dance Smartly (1991), a dual American and Canadian Hall of Famer and Skip Away (1996), a Hall of Famer in the States. Since moving to turf, the race counts Canadian Horse of the Year Soaring Free (2004) and Champion Turfer Leroidesanimaux (2005) on its winners list. Standing perhaps at the top of the recent heroes is double winner Wise Dan (2012-13), who would win turn the Woodbine Mile-Breeders' Cup Mile double in both years he came to Toronto.
Wise Dan takes his second G1 Woodbine Mile in 2013, and does it in track record time.
Wise Dan was slated to make his 2015 debut in this race, and to become a three-time winner of the G1 Woodbine Mile. But an ankle injury in training ended that plan, and his career. While at times managed too conservatively to some observers, what can't be denied is how in the mile category he made the decent look pedestrian. With him, the race is about who to backwheel under him. Without him, the race becomes a puzzle. While OBVIOUSLY's inside draw and first off the layoff stature make him a logical target for the lead - he needs an uncontested lead for him to take the G1 Woodbine Mile from start to finish. But the presence of REPORTING STAR - who came from behind in the local prep at seven panels - complicates the equation. In the past he's gone wire-to-wire on the front end on the Woodbine turf and done it in relatively honest splits. But he is tactical enough to pull back, as seen when they went :45 in the G2-CDN Play The King at seven-eighths and he came from mid-pack to run down the field. As he's gone to the lead going longer (see last year's G1-CDN Pattison Canadian International), perhaps REPORTING STAR at these distances is tactical enough to annoy OBVIOUSLY. That demotes OBVIOUSLY and promotes MONDIALISTE. Europeans take well to the Woodbine sod, and MONDIALISTE, Fergal Lynch/David O'Meara jockey/trainer production, makes his first start in North America in the G1 Woodbine Mile. He also gets first time lasix. Winner of a British G3 at York, he two back won by ten lengths - a veritable zip code on the lawn - in a handicap event in Britain. He's in sharp form, ships over with a lasix boost, and gets a course friendly to Euros. This is also a Woodbine Mile that fell apart in the absence of Wise Dan, and he can take advantage of the field's class situation. Eleven of fourteen in the money in the career. OBVIOUSLY was mentioned before in discussing the race's pace prediction and how REPORTING STAR could scramble his chances. He could break on top, get an uncontested lead, and win with ease. Or get pressured and faltered. This space sides with scrambling, but he could hang around for a piece based on a dearth of other speed signed up. Perhaps he is just too fast, but he's not an appetizing price nor a speed with any sort of tactical ability or able to withstand a potential duel. Trainer Mark Casse swept the frosh stakes on the sod and Casse at odds on his home grounds of Woodbine is worth a look. Winner last year of the G2-CDN Play The King and a runner-up in last year's G1-CDN Woodbine Mile, he hasn't had a win since the G2 Seabiscuit during the Hollywood Turf Festival at Del Mar. KAIGUN works best when someone is a target and he can mow down runners, and with OBVIOUSLY winging it out on the front end that's the target he needs. Yielding turf could flummox him (as he's done better on firm/good) but he's hit the podium in all five starts he's made on the Toronto turf. Perhaps his closing effort in last year's local prep at seven furlongs suggests he went off form on a west coast swing last year and is rounding back to his best.
#7 MONDIALISTE (9/2)
#1 OBVIOUSLY (3/1)
#9 KAIGUN (20/1)
Longshot: A Picks & Ponderings investigation has learned that Wise Dan is not in the gate. A Picks & Ponderings investigation has also uncovered there isn't a Kitten's Joy offspring. With no Kittens and no Wise Dan, this space - like the space above - must rigorously handicap the race instead of relying on tropes. Europeans take well to Woodbine, so this space goes with the "other" import in #8 MR. OWEN (8/1). Only a three-year-old, he'll be getting a weight break for his age. While he's never won a graded stake, he is Group One placed with a third at Longchamp three back and in that same event was in the same zip code as New Bay, the next-out winner of the G1-FR French Derby and subsequent hero of the G2-FR Guillaume d'Ornano. Perhaps he threw a clunker two back at Chantilly, and that's the only time he's been out of the money. All of his career wins have been at a mile as well. In a Woodbine Mile lacking a true star and to be contested over turf that won't be rock-hard, he's got a puncher's chance.
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