Saturday’s featured $150,000 Star Shoot Stakes didn’t attract very many stars – or three-year-old fillies of any caliber, for that matter – but it does give horse racing fans in Canada a first chance to see what last year’s champion two-year-old filly Tu Endie Wei has in store for this season. What is somewhat of a rarity in racing is that the Reade Baker trainee only competed in stakes events last year. In impressive fashion, she won three of the four attempts. Her only loss was the Grade 1 Alicibiades at Keeneland.
All of the Johar filly’s scores came at Woodbine in one-turn races ranging from five furlongs to seven furlongs. She kicked off her campaign with an eye-catching come-from-behind victory in the My Dear and a narrow score over Northern Passion in the Ontario Debutante stakes. The exclamation point on the campaign was a dazzling wire to wire score in the Glorious Song Stakes.
Incidentally, Saturday’s six-furlong test on Saturday will be the Brereton Jones homebred’s chance at a fourth different winning distance over the Toronto synthetic oval.
Tu Endie Wei will face as many as five locals. That’s right. Even though the pot is generous and conditions open to all, no fillies from south of the border have ventured to Toronto to contest the Star Shoot. Of the five entered, Ralph Biamonte’s Ontario-sired Rose and Shine is the only stakes winner in the field that will be led over from the backstretch to face the champ.
So, is the Star Shoot a walkover? The odds board may look that way when the half-dozen begin to load at 4:47 p.m. Pegged at 4-5 by the Woodbine Morning Line, the filly may be driven closer to 2-5 by race time.
But handicappers that are fan of exploiting large weight discrepancies and/or entrants with a conditioning edge won’t dismiss the Star Shoot as a fait accompli. They’ll be looking to Greg de Gannes pupil Runfor Ro to be running for the upset.
Always a bridesmaid and never a bride (even in the lone victory on her record) this bay Kentucky-bred sports four different top-three finishes in stakes during her six-start career. In three of the four added-money races, guess who bested her? The aforementioned champion of the division, Tu Endie Wei. The margin was never really close – right around five lengths in each battle.
What Runfor Ro has in her favor is that she enters the Star Shoot with a start this year. She was a troubled second in a non-wagering event over the synthetic surface at the Ocala Training Centre. The March 12 effort was strong enough to earn her a Beyer Speed Figure just one point shy of her best of 2011 (My Dear, 2nd). Because she returned to the races at the same level as last year, those that play horses by trying to predict when a three-year-old will have his or her breakthrough performance will be looking for a big move forward from her soon. Maybe even Saturday. Handicappers that follow bloodlines may also be recalling that Afleet Alex, the sire of Runfor Ro, began to blossom in April and May of his three-year-old year. If he passes that development pattern on to his daughter, she may also prove to be a much more talented individual in the next few races than she was as a two-year-old when no match for Tu Endie Wei.
Always a subject of intense debate among horseplayers is the effect of weight. Unless we’re discussing Fall Highweight in New York, normally the topic wouldn’t be mentioned in a race as short as six furlongs. It may bear noticing in the Star Shoot because Runfor Ro is slated to carry seven pounds less than Tu Endie Wei. Perhaps it is one less reason to swallow 2-5 on the returning champ that wintered at Palm Meadows Training Centre?
It’s a question for a later day but well worth getting the ball rolling now: What was the main factor in the filly’s (only) loss in Lexington? Class? Distance? Surface?
Events beyond the Star Shoot will further open up this debate, especially considering the results put up by her half-sister, Grade 3 winner Biofuel. In the meantime, Saturday’s faithful on track fans will should get to see a brilliant filly do what she does best: sprint like a star.
Tu Endie Wei’s passport reads Kentucky-bred. So there won’t be any Woodbine Oaks or Queen’s Plate hubbub surrounding her schedule. Whether that means she is less appreciated this Spring as the focus quickly switches to a hunt for the best Canadian-foaled sophomores in the country remains to be seen.
Let’s hope not. She’s a dynamite performer that somehow managed to escape the two-year-old ranks with an undefeated Woodbine record – no easy feat over a surface many lovingly refer to as quirky on the best of days.
If I had a toonie (or two $1 bills for US readers) left in my pocket at Star Shoot time, the play, for fun, would be a straight triactor. Runfor Ro onto Tu Endie Wei onto Casa Loma. What’s yours?