Friday, October 15, 2010

Turf Stars Descend on Woodbine

For one day each year, the racing world turns its collective eyes to Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Canada to realize the promise of a day of rich, world-class racing.

Year after year, Woodbine delivers.

This special day is Canadian International Day, which this year falls on Saturday, Oct. 16. International Day is the richest day of racing on the Canadian racing calendar, boasting three grade I stakes for total purses of $3.5 million, excluding bonuses. The feature event is the 1 ½ mile Pattison Canadian International, which is preceded by the 1 ¼ mile E.P Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares, and the six furlong Nearctic for sprinters. All three races are on the turf, and are Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races.

International critics will question the quality of these races, so allow me to take a moment to list some of the past winners, who speak for themselves:

-Bunty Lawless
-Bull Page
-All Along
-Sky Classic
-Chief Bearhart
-Royal Anthem

-And finally, the great Secretariat, who travelled to Canada to make his final start in the Canadian International. The race was also to a be a homecoming for Secretariat’s Canadian-born trainer and jockey, Lucien Laurin and Ron Turcotte, respectively; However, Turcotte had to sit out the race on a riding suspension, and was replaced by American rider Eddie Maple (who I will crown an honourary Canadian on the merits of his surname; it doesn’t get much more Canadian than that!)

Having lost that battle, these critics will next attack the quality of the local Canadian horses. I will encounter that argument in two ways. First, I will discuss the merits of some of the local entrants:

Field Commission: Won this race last year.

Grand Adventure: Won the Connaught Cup (gr. IIIT) and King Edward Stakes (gr. IIT) over the Woodbine course earlier this year. I personally think this is the best turf horse at Woodbine.

Signature Red: Won the Highlander Stakes (gr. IIT) over the course earlier this year.

Fatal Bullet: Million-dollar earner, Canadian Horse of the Year, second in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).

Woodbourne: A shocking third at 52-1 in the Woodbine Mile.

E.P. Taylor:
Mekong Melody: Winner of two stakes events at Woodbine this year, including the Dance Smartly (gr. IIT).

Miss Keller: Won the Canadian Stakes (gr. IIT), third in the Ballston Spa (gr. IIT) at Saratoga after winning the De La Rose at that track. Third in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT). Has three wins and is yet to be out of the money this year.

Simmard: Third last out in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. II). Won last year’s Chief Bearhart Stakes. Trained by perennial leading Canadian trainer Roger Attfield.

Fifty Proof: Second to Redwood last out in the Northern Dancer (gr. I) in his stakes debut. Off the board just once in eight career starts. Trained by red-hot Woodbine conditioner Ian Black.

I would then argue that while Canada has a small but competitive local contingent, keeping all the prize money at home is not what this weekend is all about. I would be thrilled to see the home team win or hit the board in any of these events, and will be rooting for them to do so, but success for the International players will be what makes them come back. This is evidenced by the fact that Juddmonte Farms is going for its fourth International win with favoured Redwood. Woodbine offers a product that is truly appealing across the globe, and that is competitive races with rich purses over a high quality track at a top class racing facility for horses, horse people, and fans. These races are staged at Woodbine all year long, but are highlighted on International Day. So while we take pride in seeing our local horses keep the pace with top class international fields, the ship-ins must experience some success as well so that they want to come back. And if these owners and trainers can go back to their home countries and spread the word about Woodbine, we have hardly lost.

So wherever you are in the world, sit back, relax, and enjoy a great evening of racing on North America’s best turf course.

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