While there may be a shortage of runners in today’s $250,000 Selene Stakes, there’s no shortage of storylines in the 1 1/16-mile event, which has bounced back to its old spot on the Woodbine schedule in advance of the Woodbine Oaks and not buried sometime in late Summer. As far as a prep for the Oaks is concerned, the Selene has only lured one Canadian-bred filly, but she’s a significant one. The Selene will feature the local return of the Queen’s Plate Winterbook favorite Dixie Strike, who is looking for her first win since the $105,000 Florida Oaks on February 4 at Tampa Bay Downs. It’s interesting that she’s favorite for the Queen’s Plate, but she’s third choice in an event that has not attracted even one graded stakes winner. Not seeing her going off as favorite with the presence of Tu Endie Wei, but she’s more accomplished than the Todd Pletcher invader and will be bet accordingly. John Oxley-owned Dixie Strike has a tough act to follow being a half-sister to the Selene and Woodbine Oaks winning filly Inglorious. After he brilliant three-year-old debut in the Florida Oaks, she looked like very much like she was a few steps ahead of her older sister, who never displayed so much ability in any of her U.S. tries leading up to her Woodbine campaign.
Under Jose Lezcano, Dixie Strike settled near the back of the pack in the style she had successfully used in the Ontario Lassie Stakes on December 3. The fractions were pedestrian in the Tampa turf contest. To make matters worse, Dixie Strike spotted the leaders another advantage by advancing four-wide on the second turn. Despite this, the daughter of Noble Strike rallied with determination through the stretch and was up in time to defeat More Than Love by a nose.
The margin of victory and even the win itself were secondary compared to the velocity Dixie Strike had reached through the final five-sixteenths of a mile: a scintillating :27 2/5. On February 4, 2011, even Inglorious hadn’t displayed this kind of late speed.
Combined with the fact that Norseman Stable had sold Maritimer to foreign interests for a lucrative attempt at Meydan, this performance earned Dixie Strike her Winterbook favorite stripe. It also but her on the Kentucky Oaks map, though she had never tried the dirt before. Some in the Twitterverse even suggested that the Oxley runner might point to the Kentucky Derby. As the story fast forwards to May 13, there is one key problem with Dixie Strike. She has yet to replicate this performance. She ran in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride at 1 1/8-miles. She was quite flat finishing five lengths behind Dayatthespa. Then she returned to a synthetic surface at Keeneland taking on Kentucky Oaks bound foes in the Ashland.
The Ashland was a definite signal of her lack of form. It wasn’t a strong Grade 1 event to begin with. Dixie Strike appeared to have a nice trip situated just off the pace along the inside – which was a good place to be considering the speed-biased nature of the track.
Dixie Strike failed to take advantage of this position. She lost this great position on the second turn and then was angled to the outside. She chugged home a belated fifth, seven lengths behind the longshot winner Karlovy Vary.
Trainer Mark Casse has suggested that Dixie Strike brushed the rail at some point in the Ashland. Video replays show her along the inside, but not at any point does she lose ground by virtue of hitting it. If it caused some sort of psychological distress, the filly’s reaction was delayed. (Thoroughly Woodbine certainly invites your comments on her Ashland trip).
As posed in an upcoming issue of Canadian Thoroughbred, is it possible that Dixie Strike may have been at her best in the Florida Oaks? Could it be that she just wasn’t ready to perform at such a level in her first start off the shelf. If so, she had licence to regress in the Herecomesthebride and even the Ashland.
Question today is will the return to Woodbine put her back on track for her main target – the Woodbine Oaks? The difficulty of this question is what makes her a lousy wager, even if she’s third choice in the Selene. From the perspective of her connections, anything from an impressive win to a one-paced third could still earn her a start in the Oaks.
Whether she’s worth a win bet in the Selene definitely depends on feelings about the other main contender in the event.
Reigning champion Tu Endie Wei has yet to be defeated at Woodbine. But each of those wins in Toronto has been at less than one mile. She tried two turns in the Grade 1 Alcibiades, but didn’t get the best of trips and the class may have been too much too soon for the daughter of Johar.
Tu Endie Wei was extremely impressive in her return engagement, the $166,000 Star Shoot Stakes. It’s worth noting that something may be amiss with the Beyer she received in her 5 ½-length romp. She was three lengths slower than Town Prize, the equally-impressive winner of the next day’s Woodstock, which earned a 94. However, the Polytrack over which Dixie Strike ran was distinctly slower than the track over which Town Prize ran, yet the pair earned figs that indicated the pair ran over surfaces that were equally fast.
Nonetheless, Tu Endie Wei has to show she can stretch her speed out around two turns. Until she’s accomplished this feat, there will be some doubt. If she wants to make this attempt in wire to wire fashion, the Selene appears to set up in her favor, depending on what the Todd Pletcher invader Wait Til Dawn decides to do from post one.
Unlike the prohibitive favorite Johannes that Jim McAleney unsuccessfully tried to rate for Reade Baker on Friday, it would seem that the journeyman has options with Tu Endie Wei, should she get outsprinted into the first turn.
The one minor concern with the Kentucky-bred Tu Endie Wei are the mixed signals surrounding her scheduling. If her connections felt she was a prospect for two turns, wouldn’t she have been pointed for a chance at running in the Kentucky Oaks? Since her first start of the season came in a six-furlong stakes race over her preferred surface, it seems like this possibility was reviewed and dismissed several weeks earlier. Now that a distance race has come up on the schedule, what is to be made of her two-turn prowess? Is she all of a sudden a two-turn horse? Or is Team Baker trainee taking advantage of a weak bunch of fillies that can be dominated by a superior sprinter?
All these questions make for an interesting edition of the Selene, which goes as race six on the program.