Photo: NYRA, Adam Coglianese
A group of nine will vie for the $600,000 winner’s share of the Woodbine Mile purse on Sunday. A win by the heavily favored Wise Dan in the 16th edition of the Grade 1 event would make Charles Lopresti the first trainer ever to win back-to-back editions of the one-mile turf contest on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
Last year, Lopresti had Turallure in prime condition for a dramatic rally from well off the pace to take the event last year at odds of 6-1. You never know, but it’s probably safe to say a repeat of last year thriller won’t be in the cards since Wise Dan does his best running from in relatively close contact to the pace.
That said, he isn’t exactly a crack sprinter. And most years, when the Mile field is bulky, a talented route horse like Wise Dan must work out a smart trip to avoid getting singed in a blistering early half. What helps him this year is that there is a serious shortage of front-running types.
For starters, three of the nine in the field have travelled to Toronto from parts of Europe, giving this race the international feel for which it had always been designed, but failed to regularly live up to. Generally, Europeans don’t ship overseas to dictate the early fractions or win one-mile races in wire-to-wire fashion (unless they’re named Frankel). They’re best assets are their stamina and they’re quick stretch turn-of-foot. So, this corner isn’t expecting any of the three to have an impact on the pace.
The Europeans, who are represented by Dubai Duty Free winner Cityscape of Juddmonte fame, last year’s Mile sixth-place finisher Dance and Dance and Group 2 winner Worthadd, are still looking for their first score in this late Summer feature, though it certainly can be argued that Arkadian Hero should have won the event over Riviera had it not been for his tardy beginning. Other than the fact that they’ve finished one-two in their past meetings, Big Band Sound and Riding the River have a lot in common. They’re both multiple winners that have conquered graded stakes company this year. Both have definitive one run, off-the-pace styles.
Big Band Sound exits a victory in the seven-furlong Play The King and will now step up and try a one-turn event that is one furlong further. On the other hand, Riding the River ran well to finish second in the Play The King, a trip that was shorter than he had tried all season. He won the one-mile King Edward and nine-furlong Nijinsky Stakes.
It’s somewhat puzzling why Riding the River was quoted at 10-1, on the strength of two graded scores, including one at the same distance he’ll contest Sunday, while Big Band Sound is 6-1 in the a.m. race office odds offering, without even having tried the distance. In any event, it’s unlikely either has the turn-of-foot necessary if there’s not an honest pace to take a toll on the favorite who is very likely to get the early jump.
Moving on, two-year-old Canadian champion Hollinger was always cut out to be a Grade 1 type of horse. He came close to realizing this goal in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap over the winter. He finished second, just a half-length behind Get Stormy. He’s finished on the fringes in his four subsequent starts since then. He’s not the type of horse that would cause a fast pace to develop, but he certainly is tactical enough to adjust if there’s no speed in the race. So, look for him and his pilot Alex Solis to be in the front four early. He’ll still need a career race and racing luck to find the winner’s circle. While Hollinger was a very good juvenile, Artic Fern was a sensational three-year-old at Woodbine. He would have been the favorite in the Queen’s Plate had he not been forced to the sidelines after his final prep. The Mike Keogh trainee is arguably the only bona fide front runner in the field, though he doesn’t really need the lead to prevail. These tactics have been on display more often than not during his sprint events this season. Artic Fern has taken on the quickest the Woodbine grounds have had to offer, the speediest of which is Essence Hit Man. Sure, his Beyer Speed Figures aren’t the highest in the field, but if this event has a false pace, he’s the chief beneficiary -- the horse most likely to be out in front, perhaps even left alone and in the clear. Many above average horses have returned to peak efforts when offered dream trips. Having covered the field’s eight turf horses, the only horse left to discuss is the race wildcard, the horse trying the turf for the very first time in his career, Hunters Bay. The son of Ghostzapper is nothing short of awesome over the Woodbine polytrack where he is 4-for-4 with two sprint allowance scores and two Grade 3 stakes triumphs. The Stronach Stables runner gets quite the acid test in the Woodbine Mile. What’s interesting is that his seven furlong scores were both slowly run events in which he sat just off the pace and quickened effectively in the final three-eighths. If he works out the same type of trip in the Mile, assuming he has no issue with competing over the lawn, he’s another who could work out a decent trip by virtue of the lack of pace signed on. Since his staying power is certain, he’s not likely to fold up in the stretch after stalking tepid fractions. His morning line is 15-1, which is laughable, considering he is one of only two horses with a three-digit Beyer figure on his resume.
Call it a cold Wise Dan – Hunters Bay exactor with the consistent Worthadd outfinishing Cityscape for third money.