Picks and Ponderings has gone on a few road trips this year. One or both of us has picked and pondered live from Tampa Bay Downs, Indiana Grand, and Fairmount Park. This weekend, in a Picks and Ponderings first, we leave the country.
That's right: thanks to the persistent urging of Twitter's favourite barn cat, NN has packed their bags and headed to Woodbine!
Saturday will be a top-notch day of racing at Woodbine. Champion turf mare Tepin takes on the boys again in the Woodbine Mile (GI - CAN), hoping to earn a bid to defend her Breeders' Cup Mile (GI) title.
Though last year's Woodbine Mile champion (and this year's Arlington Million (GI) winner) Mondialiste will point for the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI) instead of Woodbine, there will be some Chicago-connected horses on the undercard. Illinois-bred The Pizza Man, fifth in the Northern Dancer Turf (GI - CAN) in 2014, returns to try that race again this year. World Approval, winner of last year's American Derby (GIII), also makes an appearance in the Northern Dancer. That race also features five other horses who have run in graded company at Arlington at least once: Big Blue Kitten, Danish Dynaformer, Messi, Up With the Birds, and Wake Forest. And, the Canadian Stakes (GII - CAN) features 2016 Modesty Handicap (GIII) winner Faufiler as well as 2016 Beverly D (GI) third-place Zipessa.
These races, and all races at Woodbine, can be watched live for free on Woodbine's online stream.
Selections for the Woodbine Mile, the Northern Dancer, and the Canadian are made for turf only. Updated Saturday, September 17 to account for the scratches of TALE OF THE NILE and BERLINER from the Ontario Derby.
Race 4: Ontario Derby (GIII - CAN), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the Tapeta, post time 2:24pm EDT
The Ontario Derby began its life as the Colonel R. S. MacLaughlin Handicap, and carried MacLaughlin's name from its inauguration in 1972 until it took the Ontario Derby name in 2003. It began as a nine and a half-furlong race for three-year-olds over the main track. It was shortened to its current nine-furlong distance in 1992. It has oscillated between being ungraded and being a Grade III event; it has held a GIII designation in 2000-2003, 2006, and from 2012 to the present day. Quite fittingly, as the Northern Dancer Turf will be run on the same day as the Ontario Derby, the race's first winner Nice Dancer (1972) was a son of Northern Dancer. He won this race on the way to winning the Breeders', and was named Canada's champion three-year-old. There have been a few ties between the Ontario Derby and solid Chicago-area stakes performances over the year. Frost King (1981) won the National Jockey Club Handicap at Sportsman's the next year. At age four, Stephanotis (1996) finished third in the Washington Park Handicap (GII). Last year's Ontario Derby winner, Lucky Lindy, capped off his three-year-old season with a trip to Chicago and a confident victory in the 2015 Hawthorne Derby (GIII).
This year's edition offers a purse of $150,000, and eight sophomores passed the entry box. The likely favourite, and the one to beat, is AMIS GIZMO. He faltered last out, finishing sixth behind Camp Creek in the Breeders' Stakes, but that was his first time at a mile and a half and his first time on turf. He stands to appreciate the cut back to nine panels, and the moves back to a Tapeta surface over which he won the Plate Trial and finished second in the Queen's Plate. The Plate Trial covered the same distance as today's race.
That said, AMIS GIZMO is a defensive use. The price will be short, and he will be moving back into open company after spending most of his career against Canadian-breds. If there is a logical alternative at a better price, he may be a better win bet, and ENGLISH ILLUSION looks like that horse. Some elements of his breeding suggest he would get better with time and distance: after all, he is by English Channel out of a Woodman mare. Sure enough, he put it together in August of this year. It was his first try on the Woodbine Tapeta, and his first at a mile and a quarter. He followed that up with an N1X win at a mile and a half over grass on September 4. Though this race is his stakes debut, both of those wins did come versus older company. ENGLISH ILLUSION did fall short in his only career try at a mile and an eighth, but that came from well off the early going. If he can stay a bit closer early, as he did in both of his wins, he should make better account of himself. ENGLISH ILLUSION looks the improving type who can make an impact here at a price, and this space will take a shot.
DRAGON BAY ran on the lead last out in the Better Talk Now at Saratoga, but does not need the lead, and should be a bit off the going with the blinkers-off move. He also has solid form on the Woodbine Tapeta earlier this year: in three tries, he has a win, a second beaten a neck, and a fourth beaten a neck. All three of those races came at a mile and a sixteenth, but he also acquitted himself well at a mile and an eighth (albeit on grass) in the Toronto Cup. If DRAGON BAY can refrain from ducking at shiny objects, something for which he has been disqualified in his last two starts, he should make good account of himself on this return to the Tapeta.
#2 ENGLISH ILLUSION (10/1)
#6 AMIS GIZMO (2/1)
#6 DRAGON BAY (7/2)
Longshot: We tried to find the longshot writer, but Gator Kitten was too busy giving them whips for not calling the day's feature the Gator Kitten Mile.
Race 8: Canadian Stakes (GII - CAN), three-year-olds and up, about one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 4:30pm EDT
This year's Canadian Stakes is a $300,000 event for older female turf routers. The race was inaugurated in 1955, and was originally a 1 1/16 race for three-year-olds and up, open company. The race began at the old Woodbine Race Course (later renamed Greenwood Raceway, when the new Woodbine was built) in 1955, and was moved to the current Woodbine in 1964. In 1970 the race was moved to grass, and also became restricted to fillies and mares. Though on grass, the race stayed at its 1 1/16 mile distance until 1999. That was the first year it was graded, and that was the first year it was nine furlongs. The Canadian Stakes winner of strongest local interest is Never Retreat, who won in 2011 at age 6. This Smart Strike mare won the race en route to Sovereign Awards that year for both Champion Grass Mare and Horse of the Year. Never Retreat was bred in Kentucky, but owned by Illinois powerhouse Team Block and trained by Chris Block. In 2014 Illinois-bred mare La Tia tried the Canadian Stakes, but only managed a third-place finish behind an in-form Deceptive Vision.
A pair of horses tower on class here. STEIP AMACH is the lone intercontinental shipper for the Canadian. She comes in off of a pair of third-place finishes in French Group I company. Two back, she was third behind Qemah in the Prix Rothschild (GI - FR), and last out she was third behing Speedy Boarding in the Prix Jean Romanet (GI - FR). She has never tried a flat mile and an eighth before, but she has classy form at enough distances close enough to it (a mile, a mile and three sixteenths, a mile and a quarter) that this should fit her. STEIP AMACH has some form over ground with cut, helpful given the rain in the forecast. And, though she is an off-pace type in a race without much front-end gas, she should be able to unleash a stiff run from midpack. The one drawback to STEIP AMACH is that she does not win a whole lot: she has just two wins in 21 starts, though eight more money finishes. But, given the level of her company in her last two starts, that's enough to suggest she could put it back together on the class drop here. And she can do so for a price slightly better than that of DACITA and her North American name-brand connections, trainer Chad Brown and rider Irad Ortiz. Still, DACITA demands respect. Two starts back, she got the best of eventual Beverly D (GI) winner Sea Calisi in the New York Stakes (GII) at a mile and a quarter. Cutting back to a mile and an eighth, the same distance as today's Canadian, she posted a game nose victory in the Diana (GI). She is an off-pace type, less than optimal given the likely slow pace here, but has shown the ability to rally effectively into sluggish paces before. Softer going is a bit of a question for DACITA, but her class cannot be denied.
If the turf were firm, FAUFILER would interest, given her sharp rally into a paceless race two back in the Modesty (GII). However, with all the rain planned for Saturday, STRUT THE COURSE seems the more likely spoiler. She won last year's Canadian over yielding turf and was a respectable fourth in the E. P. Taylor (GI - CAN) over good going as well, suggesting the cut in the ground should help her. She also lures solid Woodbine turf rider Rafael Hernandez off of the streaking MIDNIGHT MILEY, another plus in her column. Her records over the course (9-3-3-1) and distance (3-2-1-0) are solid enough to suggest you can depend on a good effort from her. Finally, though a bit of pace would help her here, STRUT THE COURSE has a few wins along the way into paces that were hardly flying. This consistent Woodbine turf mare should turn in a good effort once again.
#3 STEIP AMACH (5/2)
#2 DACITA (2/1)
#4 STRUT THE COURSE (6/1)
Longshot: This race is a paceless affair except for #6 MIDNIGHT MILEY (12/1). Turf is a question, as she has really found her form over synthetic surfaces. But, she has a win and a second on turf earlier in her career, and she also has a win over polytrack going a mile and an eighth. It is a strike against her that she loses hot-riding Rafael Hernandez to STRUT THE COURSE but she gets a more than capable replacement in Flavien Prat. MIDNIGHT MILEY's last two starts (both GIII wins over the Woodbine Tapeta) suggest she is in good form, and as the likely lone speed here, double-digit odds could justify a play.
Race 10: Northern Dancer Turf Presented by HPIBet (GI - CAN), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 5:34pm EDT
The Northern Dancer Turf Stakes is named after Northern Dancer, the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. He won both the Derby and the Preakness in 1964. Though Northern Dancer is most famous for running on dirt (or, for being one of the most prominent sires of the twentieth century...), he did race on the turf, winning the Summer Stakes at age two. The race named in his honour was originally called the Niagara Handicap. Originally run in 1953 as a 1 1/16 mile race over the Fort Erie dirt, the race moved to turf in 1957, and moved to Woodbine in 1985. It has been run at several distances over the years, but settled on its current distance of a mile and a half in 1995. In 2006, it was renamed to honour Northern Dancer. Perhaps the most curious winner of this race, back in its Niagara Handicap days, was a mischievous colt named Puss n Boots. In 1961, when leading a race over the Fort Erie grass by daylight, the colt (then two years old) interpreted his jockey's right-handed stick as an instruction to hop through a gap in the hedges and take a swim in the infield pond. Two years later he returned to the grass at Fort Erie, stayed focused on the turf, and prevailed in the Niagara Handicap. Fort Erie still runs a stakes race in Puss n Boots's honour; Johnny La Rue, a regular at Arlington this summer, won the Puss n Boots Cup in both 2014 and 2015.
Fort Erie folk hero -- and 1963 Niagara Handicap winner -- Puss n Boots.
This year's Northern Dancer offers a $300,000 guaranteed purse, and eight entrants come to try for their share. WORLD APPROVAL is the morning line favourite, but this race goes right through him. The race drew very little in the way of pace, and WORLD APPROVAL is the sort who can take the lead if no one else wants it, or sit just off if someone does. (He also has back lines as a closer, though that skill will not likely come in handy here.) WORLD APPROVAL finished seventh in the Arlington Million (GI) last time out, but was still beaten less than two lengths for the whole thing, and he has a win at Arlington last year. Arlington form tends to translate well to the sweeping, galloping Woodbine turf. The biggest question is the mile and a half, but he handled a mile and three eighths beautifully in the United Nations two back, and looks to get at least as sweet a trip here as he did there.
DANISH DYNAFORMER is another who comes in from the Arlington Million, where he was fifth beaten a length and a half. He is well proven at a mile and a half at Woodbine, with wins in both the Breeders' Stakes last year and the Singspiel (GIII) this year. He tends to rally from off the pace in most of this starts, but has enough form from closer up to suggest that he will be less pace-compromised than most of these. Third off the lay and with solid Woodbine rider Patrick Husbands back aboard, DANISH DYNAFORMER has the chance to spring the upset over his home course.
We'll get this out of the way: this space does not believe that THE PIZZA MAN is the same horse as he was last year. But, he stands to be a price given his questionable record this year -- and at a price, THE PIZZA MAN's recent form still has enough to suggest he can get a slice of this. He was sixth last out in the Arlington Million, beaten a length and a half, and stands to improve stretching back out to a mile and a half. Two back in the Stars and Stripes, he rallied from well out of it and missed by just a neck to Greengrassofyoming. The latter franked that form by finishing fourth next out in the Million. Finally, though most of THE PIZZA MAN's recent form has been from off the pace, but earlier in his career he has been good on the front -- case in point, his front-end win in the 2014 Stars and Stripes (GIII). Perhaps Flavien Prat sends him, and he walks the dog here. Perhaps Prat just keeps him a bit closer. THE PIZZA MAN is not a horse you can take for chalk here, but at or around his morning line there's enough to suggest he can cook up a surprise.
#6 WORLD APPROVAL (2/1)
#8 DANISH DYNAFORMER (6/1)
#7 THE PIZZA MAN (8/1)
Longshot: #5 CAMP CREEK (20/1) is in extremely tough here, of course. He has run just five times, broke his maiden two back, and beat Ontario-bred three-year-olds in the Breeders' Stakes last out. His maiden win did come against older, however. Also, he has made marked improvement with experience, turf, and distance -- all positive signs to suggest that returning to this mile and a half trip on the grass is what he ought to do. His last time out puts him close to where he needs to be here, figure-wise: he will have to improve, but not colossally. CAMP CREEK also keeps rider Rafael Hernandez aboard; an actual fire might not be as hot as Hernandez's riding right now. If anyone is going to blow up the tote here, why not Rafael Hernandez on the longest shot on the board?
Race 12: Ricoh Woodbine Mile (GI - CAN), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the turf, post time 6:39pm EDT
The race we now know as the Woodbine Mile was not originally run at a mile. It was originally called the Molson Export Challenge, restricted to three-year-olds, and run at ten furlongs starting in 1988. In 1991 the race shortened up to nine furlongs, and was further shortened to a mile in 1997. That 1997 edition also marked the first year in which the race was open to older horses. The race has an illustrious winner's list that includes two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan (2012, 2013) as well as this year's Arlington Million winner Mondialiste (2015). Other notable winners in the mile era include Breeders' Cup Mile shocker Court Vision (2010) and 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom's sire Leroisdesanimaux (2005). The Woodbine Mile has been a Win And You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Mile since 2008, and this year the $1,000,000 race maintains that status.
2016 Arlington Million winner Mondialiste rallies to win the 2015 Woodbine Mile.
TEPIN will go off odds-on here, and she deserves a lot of respect. She is the defending Breeders' Cup Mile champion, a last-out winner at Royal Ascot, and has well-proven form over ground with give. Though this is her first trip to Woodbine, she has been able to take her form with her to different tracks, so the travel is not a question. The only real knock on TEPIN is that this race was her "Plan B". She had been looking at the Ballston Spa, but after a rough patch, she was re-routed to take a it more time off and then go to the Woodbine Mile as her Breeders' Cup prep. TEPIN at her best wins this, but the change of plans leaves just enough question to look elsewhere if one can find a horse good enough to merit consideration.
This son of Sea the Stars makes his first stateside start, and brings real class across the pond with him. He finished an excellent third behind Postponed and Highland Reel in the Juddmonte International (GI - ENG) last out. Though that came at a mile and five sixteenths, MUTAKAYYEF's two wins leading into the Juddmonte International both came at a flat mile. Two back, when he won the Summer Mile (GII - ENG) at Ascot, he soundly beat second-place Dutch Connection -- who came back to win a Group II in his next start. On pace, he does not have to be too far off the pace; it should suit him well enough. MUTAKAYYEF stands a legitimate challenge to TEPIN here, and this space will give him the advantage since he stands to be at least five times the price.
AROD, another one of the overseas shippers, intrigues. He looks to be the pacesetter in a race with little front-end gas. The class level should be fine; he finished third beaten a head for everything in the Celebration Mile (GII - ENG) last out, and had plenty of guts late in that start. Though it is his first ship to North America, he has gone transcontinental before, with a brief Aussie tilt last fall. Physically, he looks to have handled the ship well. The ground should be no problem, as he has a bit of form over soft going. Finally, AROD goes first-time Lasix in the Woodbine Mile.
#2 MUTAKAYYEF (7/2)
#8 TEPIN (1/2)
#3 AROD (10/1)
Longshot: #4 GLENVILLE GARDENS (20/1) has been in cracking form recently, five for his last seven starts since being claimed into the barn of Sid Attard for $40,000 last year as part of the unofficial claim-box portion of the Melnyk dispersal. Though most of his recent form has come going a bit shorter than today, he does have a win over the mile turf trip at Woodbine. GLENVILLE GARDENS can handle a bit of cut in the ground, too: something he likely gets on Saturday. This race will be a class test, as last out he finally proved himself in Grade II company, and this is a much tougher Grade I. But, he loves the course, consistently fires, looks in fantastic flesh this week, and is tactical enough to stay close to a likely slow pace. A win will be tough, but a share underneath would be no surprise at all.
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