2014 Woodbine Mile Day Stakes Preview

The Pizza Man, after his 2014 American St. Leger victory.

The Pizza Man, after his 2014 American St. Leger victory.

This Sunday, we meander along to the Great White North for a trio of graded stakes at Woodbine.  The card features a little bit of home shipped up to Ontario, as two Illinois-bred horses race in these stakes.  La Tia makes her fourth appearance at Woodbine, to race in the Canadian Stakes.  She has two stakes wins at Woodbine over the all-weather, but seeks her first win there on the grass, as well as her first graded victory on grass.  The Pizza Man travels to Woodbine for the first time, racing for the first time since his victory in the American St. Leger.  He makes his first attempt at a Grade I event, and if all goes well, his connections are planning to point him toward the Breeders’ Cup Turf at the end of the year.  Still, he has only raced outside of the state of Illinois twice, and has not done so since last year.  Last out the international marathoners came to him; this time, he has to travel to face them.

Sunday is a big day at Woodbine, and these are just the undercard races.  Top billing goes to the Woodbine Mile, a Grade I on the grass.  Eleven turf milers will vie for a Breeders’ Cup Mile berth as well as a share of million dollar purse.  Though none are Illinois-bred, close followers of the local racing circuit may recognize both Jack Milton (third in last year’s Grade I Secretariat Stakes) as well as Dorsett (fourth in last year’s American Derby (GIII) and Hawthorne Derby (GIII)).  This time they are not coming to us, though, so Picks and Ponderings will take a figurative road trip to check on them.

Fox Sports 1 will televise the Woodbine Mile from 5:00pm-6:30pm EDT (4:00pm-5:30pm CDT).  All selections are for turf only, and all purse amounts are expressed in Canadian dollars.

Also this week, check out Paul’s preview of the G3 Pucker Up at Arlington.

At original publish time, morning lines were only available for the Woodbine Mile.  Morning lines for the Northern Dancer and the Canadian were added September 12 at noon CST.

Race 6: Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (GI – CAN), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 3:32pm 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.

This race, a $300,000 affair for the older marathon set, looks competitive this year.  Last year’s winner Forte Dei Marmi returns to defend his title, but his form has been questionable at best this year.  In light of that, a new winner will likely emerge.  As is not uncommon in these long turf routes, there is not a whole lot of early speed in this year’s edition of the Northern Dancer.  No one needs it, and few have really shown that they often even want it.  The front end stands to be either The Pizza Man or Reporting StarThe Pizza Man has the most raw early speed of this bunch at long distances, but is versatile pacewise.  He most often either stalks or closes, though he showed two back in the Stars and Stripes (GIII) that he can inherit the lead by default and then lead the field on a merry chase for a mile and a half.  With that the case, he should be fine whether he settles in a stalking place or inherits an unpressured lead.  Florent Geroux ships up from Arlington to ride him, and Geroux has ridden The Pizza Man to stakes wins in all of those different kinds of race shapes.  He knows the horse, he exercises good judgment, and these two will make a tough team to beat.  Reporting Star has been racing with an early speed style since entering the Pat Parente barn over the winter layoff, though the blinkers off may suggest they may be trying to keep him off the early lead this time around.  Still, the equipment change is a nice angle to take in recent times with trainer Parente: he is four for his last sixteen with the blinkers-off move, with a nice +$1.68 ROI.  This is a stretch-out for Reporting Star; he has not raced past a mile and three eighths to date.  However, he ran a good second at eleven furlongs in the Canadian Derby (GIII – CAN) last year (albeit in the slop), and finished second last out in the ten-furlong Sky Classic (GII – CAN).  Twelve furlongs does not seem out of the question; if The Pizza Man allows him to take the front instead, he will be trouble if he can stay the distance.  Sheikhzayedroad is the only overseas shipper in this years’ field.  After knocking around mainly at handicap level through 2012 and 2013, he has found his stride this year.  He was sixth but beaten just 2 1/4 lengths by Excellent Result in the Dubai City of Gold (GII – UAE) at this distance earlier this year, and then finally won his first Group level race this summer.  Last out, he won the York Stakes (GII – GB) at 1 5/16 miles.  He also tends to race well off of ships: he won his first race after shipping to Dubai this spring, and then came within a nose in a GIII in his first race back in Great Britain after his trip to Dubai.  The biggest question is the pace: Sheikhzayedroad is an off-pace type, and may not have a lot to close into.  But, the distance is not a question, and he has held his own against tougher marathoners than much of this field.


#1 THE PIZZA MAN (2/1)



Longshot:  #5 VILLANDRY (10/1) has never run past a mile and three sixteenths, and never won past a mile and an eighth.  That one attempt at a mile and three sixteenths was two years ago, at age three, and was a perfectly creditable fourth behind Optimizer.  He has mostly been going eight and eight and a half furlongs over the last year, but finishing with what looks like enough in the tank to suggest that trainer Charlie LoPresti may be on to something by trying him longer.  He is out of a Swain mare, so he has some stamina influence on the bottom.  Javier Castellano, a legitimate claimant for best turf jockey on the continent, rides him for the first time.  For a price, these all suggest plenty of upside to make taking a chance on Villandry worth it.

Race 9: Canadian Stakes (GII – CAN), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, about one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 5:12pm 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.

There are two one-way speeds here, La Tia and Skylander Girl.  If there were just one, La Tia would be the top selection.  Even though her all-weather form tends to be a bit better than her turf form, her performance last out in the Beverly D was a testament to what good form she is in this year, and a suggestion that her turf form has improved.  The Beverly D and the Diana have probably been the toughest ladies turf route division races to date this year, so finishing just 1 1/2 lengths behind Euro Charline after leading the way as long as she did makes it clear she is a horse of quality.  With the other speed horse being a three-year-old long shot with a jockey who is 1-108 on the meet, La Tia may well get the early speed.  Still, Skylander Girl will try to pressure her up front, and has shown enough early speed lately that she might just pressure.  That could given an opening for the likes of Solid Appeal to pounce late.  Solid Appeal comes in from the other one of the strong races of the division, the Diana at Saratoga.  She did not have the best outing there, probably using up more energy than she could have early.  She still finished only two lengths behind Somali Lemonade.  Assuming Solid Appeal calms down here on return to her home track (five of her six career wins have been over the Woodbine grass), she has the speed and the style to avoid being too far pace compromised here.  She did draw the outside post, but has been able to run well from outer gates in the past.  Deceptive Vision is lightly raced, but has shown a lot in the six times she has headed to the post.  She has hit the board in all six of her races, including three wins.  She has yet to break through in stakes company, but came within a nose of prevailing in the Dance Smartly (GII – CAN) last out.  She is working well leading into this, and though she loses Patrick Husbands (who rode her last out, but is riding Lexie Lou here), she still has a very sharp rider in Eurico Da Silva.  Da Silva has ridden her once before, and has scored in eight of his twenty-four rides with trainer Malcolm Pierce in the last two months.  She was second the one other time Da Silva rode her, but it was her career debut in which she finished a length behind eventual Grade I winner Coffee Clique.

Worth taking a stand against here is Lexie Lou.  She has been quite sharp this year, but this is a step up in several respects.  Even though she has raced in stakes twelve times, this is her graded stakes debut.  It is also her first race against older.  The stamina is not a question; she has won her last two at a mile and a quarter, and won the Woodbine Oaks at this distance over synthetic two back.  Still, she is likely to be a short price, given her three-race win streak and her recent Queen’s Plate score.  In this field of more seasoned runners, taking a three-year-old on such a step up in class does not make sense.


#10 SOLID APPEAL (5/2)

#8 LA TIA (6/1)


Longshot:  #9 INDUSTRIAL POLICY (15/1) was fifth two back in her first shot at a graded stakes, but there was no shame in that finish: after having traffic trouble down the stretch, she was still beaten only a length all told.  Last out, she missed out by just a head in an allowance, but that was at 1 3/8 miles: probably a bit too long for her.  She cuts back to nine furlongs here, a distance at which she has two wins and a second in four such starts on grass.  Javier Castellano rides; he is strong on grass, and he has won with her before.  The biggest question surrounding her is pace.  Her better efforts have been closing from farther off the pace than would suit her here, but she has had some good efforts closer in.  If she can get it together from just a handful back, she should contend at a price.

Race 11: Woodbine Mile (GI – CAN), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the turf, post time 6:13pm EDT

Perplexingly enough, 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 the Classic distance of 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. This year’s edition will be the first time in four years that trainer Charlie LoPresti will not win the Woodbine Mile. He won the last two editions with champion Wise Dan (including a course record run last year), and won the 2011 edition with Turallure. Other notable winners in the mile era include Breeders’ Cup Mile shocker Court Vision (2010) and 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.

After trying some funny business at nine and ten furlongs through the second half of last season, trainer Todd Pletcher has finally shortened Jack Milton up to a flat mile, and he has improved. He started the season with an allowance win a the distance, and then dispatched with a small yet salty field in the Poker Stakes (GIII) in May. Since then, he has a respectable fifth in the Shoemaker Mile (GI) two back, and then a strong third in the Fourstardave (GII) given the fact that he was bottled up for as long as he was. If Javier Castellano can give him a better trip this time out, Jack Milton will be in a great place to close into early pace from the likes of Ancil, Silver Freak, and Bobby’s Kitten. Trade Storm ships back to North America for the first time since last year, when he came in third in this very race. Since then he has yet to win, which is a bit concerning. However, he has two second-place finishes leading into this, including a neck second at 1 1/8 miles in Group III company in Great Britain last out. He cuts back to a mile here, and has shown some strong races on good to soft going. Saturday’s rain should help him more than most. Jamie Spencer is also flying out to Woodbine to ride Trade Storm here; he did not do so last year, and that plus the better races leading into this year’s edition suggest him to be more live this time around. Finally, there is Kaigun. This four-year-old has come into his own once being gelded, and shown up in every race this year except for one rather flat attempt on the dirt back in January. His better efforts have been between seven and eight and a half furlongs, making this race a nice spot. Not only is he fast, but he is also versatile: he has run strong races from the lead, the clouds, and everywhere in between. He has won both career starts over the Woodbine grass, including a win in the seven-furlong Play The King (GII – CAN) last out. He gets ace jockey Patrick Husbands back from that effort. The price will not be great on Kaigun, but he deserves the status as the favourite and is a legitimate contender.

Grand Arch deserves a mention. It is hard to be more consistent than Grand Arch: in fifteen starts, he has hit the board fifteen times. However, only four of those races are wins, and only one of those wins is in stakes company. He also runs his better races on firmer going, not optimal with rain in the forecast for the day before the race. The short price is the problem; he has generally kept weaker company compared to the rest of the field. At a price around 8/1 or better, Grand Arch would be worth considering on top, given recent form. At or near his 4/1 morning line, his best use is instead as a key in intra-race exotics.


#9 JACK MILTON (7/2)

#2 TRADE STORM (6/1)

#5 KAIGUN (5/2)

Longshot: #6 DORSETT (15/1) comes in here off of a surprise fourth-place finish as a 32/1 shot in the Fourstardave (GII) at Saratoga last time out. He has shown improved speed and form this year. Though he has yet to get his picture taken in either of his starts this year, he has been holding his own against classy company. He is third off a long layoff, as well as third off a move from the Mike Stidham barn to the Brian Lynch barn. Finally, with a good bit of rain set to fall Saturday, there may be a little more give in the turf than usual. Last year he won an allowance at Arlington over yielding turf. He also handled the soft, squishy mess that was last fall’s Hawthorne Derby (GIII) better than most; his troubles there were more likely related to the nine furlong distance of that race than any dislike of softer going. Dorsett showed last out that he can run a mile with classy company, and stands to contend for a big price here.

Photography by Nicolle Neulist.


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