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Thoroughly Woodbine

Canada's Grade 1 Invaders of the past 20 years

Photo: WEG/Michael Burns photography
When Donver Stable star filly Inglorious competes in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, the daughter of Hennessy will attempt to become the latest Canadian-based thoroughbred to scoop a serious purse and an important Grade 1 event south of the 49th parallel.
It’s not every day a Woodbine-based runner travels to the United States in search of such glory. But it would be rare for a full calendar year to pass without at least a few taking a shot. The Breeders’ Cup alone in past years has attracted around a half-dozen locally-based individuals.
A successful Grade 1 invasion, conversely, is a different matter. While many try, it takes a special type of horse to replicate its winning Canadian form in a Grade 1 race in the United States. In recent years, Canadian stars like Fatal Bullet, Lady Shakespeare and Biofuel have all come up short in Grade 1 events.
That said, Grade 2 and Grade 3 races have proven to be well within reach of Woodbine based horses. Canadian connections haven’t been shy about entering their top runners in these events if the situation fits their agenda and they’ve enjoyed the spoils.
In theory, the decision to run usually comes down to three components – this is true for whatever level is being considered. If at least two of the following factors are present in favor and the timing is right, then there’s a pretty good chance the horse will be bound for the U.S.
a) lack of opportunity (no suitable race in Canada)
b) owner wants to take a shot at a better purse or a greater prize (Grade 1)
c) connections want to test the competition (are we Breeders’ Cup-worthy?)
Every situation is completely unique. The horse’s form and the races available north and south both play an equal role. Even though the purses are lucrative at Woodbine, the structure isn’t conducive to every type of horse. If you’re out of conditions and the perfect added-money event isn’t until November, you’re stymied.
In certain divisions, a horse can’t run for $300,000 or more. In certain divisions, there’s no chance to run for a Grade 1. For instance, if you’re an older main track individual, long or short, male or female, you have to make a decision – run in what’s here or look around elsewhere.
Sometimes a horse just outruns the stakes program at Woodbine. When a runner is blessed with a greater amount of talent, it’s only fair to factor a wider range of opportunities into its schedule, especially if you’re to take a shot at the Breeders’ Cup at the end of the year.
If legacy, year-end awards and a nice stud arrangement/auction price are deemed important , then it is widely believed that no matter what they win or how much they earn at Woodbine, the horse won’t be judged ‘the real deal’ next to others in its generation until they achieve success away from the coziness of a hometown track.
That is the chief reason Inglorious is at Saratoga this weekend. Her connections passed up a shot at Triple Crown immortality, not to mention $600,000 in purse money, the combined winner’s share of the Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes, to run in the Grade 1 Alabama. That’s a heck of an entry fee to compete in a Grade 1. Make no mistake, that’s what this venture to New York is all about. It’s about taking on Grade 1 horses because defeating Canadian-breds has become ho-hum. But that’s enough with that digression.
Having identified that it is rare to go an entire season and not see a Canadian-based horse run in a Grade 1 in the United States, it is just as rare to have the chance to watch two attempts in eight days unless it’s over Breeders’ Cup weekend.  Last Saturday, Rahy’s Attorney nearly pulled off a mild upset in the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer at 1 ½ miles of turf, finishing second. It’s fair to say mild because he was hovering around the 5-1 range in the seven-horse group, partly because he had a tactical advantage and partly because the game Ontario-sired gelding had already shown the damage of which he is capable, in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 3 Pan America on March 26.
If Rahy’s Attorney would have hung on for a few more jumps, he would have been the second Canadian-based runner to win an American Grade 1 this year. Earlier this Summer, Pool Play won the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs for trainer Mark Casse.
Roger Attfield trainee Ave, who captured the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park on October 2, 2010, was the sole Canadian-based Grade 1 winner of 2010, despite attempts by top-class three-year-old filly Biofuel to race her way to the top of the division.  Prior to Ave, it was a freaky fast three-year-old filly named Carless Jewel that flew the flag for Canada, even though she was bred in Kentucky. On August 22, 2009, this Tapit filly, also trained by Josie Carroll and owned by Donver Stable, drew off to win the Alabama Stakes by 11 lengths at odds of 5-2.
Two years later, Donver and Carroll are back with a completely different type of filly in Inglorious – a runner who settles and charges from off the pace and has already conquered 1 ¼ miles like it was a walk in the park – albeit a Poly-park.
Having won the Plate, Inglorious is in good company when it comes to past Woodbine-based individuals and their eventual success in a Grade 1. Should she win the Alabama, she would be the fifth Queen’s Plate winner to go on to win a Grade 1, joining Alydeed, Dance Smartly, Victor Cooley and Dancethruthedawn. However, none of those other four Plate champs achieved the Grade 1 in their very next start, making this uncharted territory in Canadian racing.
For Carroll to land a second Grade 1 in three seasons would be a huge accomplishment, considering even a Hall of Fame master like Attfield has only notched three Grade 1 events in the United States in 18 years.
Attfield’s last Grade 1 prior to Ave came in the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland on October 4, 2003. The winning horse was the Charles Fipke-owned Perfect Soul. In 1993, Attfield captured the Grade 1 Carter Handicap with Alydeed for Kinghaven Farms.
It’s a similar story with Woodbine’s current leading trainer Mark Casse, whose Stephen Foster win with the aforementioned Pool Play was just his second ever Grade 1. Casse’s first came 10 years earlier, in the 2001 Metropolitan Mile with Exciting Story
For a Woodbine-based trainer that managed to win Grade 1s in rapid-fire fashion, Carroll would be wiser to look back at the record of conditioner Mark Frostad in the late 1990s.
Frostad won no less than five Grade 1 events in the United States over a three-season span, including three in 1997. The Brantford native began with Smart Strike in the Iselin Handicap on August 25, 1996.
The following year, he sent out Always a Classic to win the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 3. Late that year, on September 27, Frostad’s Victor Cooley captured the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park. He put the icing on the 1997 season with a Breeders’ Cup Turf score with Chief Bearhart on November 8 at Hollywood Park.
In 1998, Chief Bearhart also won the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park.
Frostad’s most recent Grade 1 score in the United States came with four-year-old Dancethruthedawn in the 2002 Go For Wand Stakes.
Frostad’s predecessor at the helm of the Sam-Son Farms juggernaut was Hall of Famer Jim Day. If there’s a flurry of Grade 1 success that opened the floodgates for the past 20 years, it began with Day and a filly named Wilderness Song. The runner-up to stable mate Dance Smartly in the Oaks and Queen’s Plate, Wilderness Song was actually first of the pair to notch a Grade 1, taking the Spinster at Keeneland.  A few weeks later, Dance Smartly won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 2, 1991, becoming the first Canadian-based horse to win a Breeders’ Cup event.
A year later, Day captured the Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park with Sky Classic. Day also won the 1995 Meadowlands Cup Handicap with Peaks and Valleys, who would go on to be Horse of the Year in Canada. 
Trainer Mike Keogh also captured three Grade 1s in a relatively short period of time. On September 21, 1996, he won the Vosburgh with Langfuhr. The following May, he saddled the same son of Danzig to victory in the Carter and, three weeks later, the Metropolitan Handicap.
In 1993, Phil England didn’t have Schossberg back in top form in time to win the Queen’s Plate, but a Summer campaign resulted in a Grade 1 score in the Jerome Handicap. Two years later, Schossberg won Monmouth Park’s Iselin Handicap.
As for other notable Grade 1 scores over the past two decades, Barb Minshall trainee Mt. Sassafras captured the Gulfstream Park Handicap in 1997 and MacDonald Benson’s star three-year-old filly Arravale won the Del Mar Oaks on August 19, 2006.
(Note: This discussion deals with horses that were based and raced at Woodbine and then went South for a Grade 1. Kissin Kris won the 1993 Haskell Invitational for Dave Bell, but hadn’t made a Woodbine start prior. Honor Glide also won the Grade 1 Secretariat for Day in 1997. He wasn’t based at Woodbine during the campaign and was left, perhaps arbitrarily, outside the scope of this discussion)
Adding up each of these scores in the approximately 20 years covered since Wilderness Song’s Spinster, generates a total of 23 Grade 1 scores by Woodbine-based runners. From a fan’s perspective, that’s a frequency that’s still rare enough to appreciate as significant, but frequent enough to not have to endure such a long wait for the next one to come along and enjoy.


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Older Comments about Canada's Grade 1 Invaders of the past 20 years...

INGLORIOUS is the Real Deal....... I am Honored as I own ASPEN RIDGE h. in Ocala.. standing at stud .... he is 1/2 brother to 1st dam NOBLE STRIKE(SW$235,000)and a Multiple stakes producer..
Woodbinemile: No intend of painting as second rate. It's just rare that they're able to tally Grade 1 races in the United States. When the Alabama is said and done, we'll all be asking why Inglorious didn't stick around for a few more races. That's just my opinion. Maybe you share it with your what does it really prove question.
You're right about purse structure, Lazmannick. That's a definite built-in incentive to stay home and not worry about the pressures of going away. Good example is Sid Attard. Off the top of my head only trip south was with One For Rose.
Yes, Eclipse First, most certainly Jambalaya should have been on the list. I don't know how that short-term score eluded my memory. Thanks!
Good one Eclipse First. Jambalaya was based at Woodbine. He also won the G1 Gulfstream Breeders Cup Turf.
Nice piece, Adam--I remember Careless Jewel's Alabama as one of the most electrifying performances of that season, and I will be pulling for Josie this time around as well. Also had the pleasure of being at Honor Glide's Secretariat win in '97--what a nice horse he was. I am a bit surprised there was no mention of Jambalaya taking down the Arlington Million for Catherine Day-Phillips, although I don't recall at present whether he was based at Woodbine; what I do recall is his being my key in a Pick 3 that returned about $550, lol.
I mean Turf Racing, which like I said is what helps represent our Style, Surface Preference, and Also display's our ties to European Racing.
The Stroll Down memory lane was in deed nice. But you paint the Canadian Bred, or Based horses to be somewhat 2nd rate. What does travelling down to the USA to race really prove?. Our Primary races at Woodbine are Top Shelf 7-12 Furlong turf races that Draw International horses to take on ours. Woodbine mile, Natalma Stakes, The International, The Northern Dancer Stakes etc. Our Purse Structure is solid, and the highest in North America. I think the question could be reversed and many good American horses, come up north and take down G1/G2/G3 Races?. The ratio could be very similar. No Knock on US Racing, It is fantastic, and certainly world Class.
Enjoyable read Adam. I know the following are probably border line, but I can’t miss a chance to brag about Canadian racing. Dahaar, the 2007 Cigar winner raced back-to-back in Canada and ran 4th in the Plate in ’07 and 3rd in the Prince of Wales……Touch Gold, officially an American bred even though everything about him was Canadian, was stabled at Woodbine at two running 4 times in 2006 including the Swynford Stakes on the Breeders Cup undercard…….Mine That Bird might qualify in that he spent his entire two year old season at Woodbine before being sold. MTB is actually one of three Kentucky Derby winners that spent their two year old year based at Woodbine, the others being Northern Dancer and Sunny’s Halo. I think one of the reasons there isn’t the same migration south of the border like there used to be back in the day is the purse structure at Woodbine, which is as good as it gets.
Quite an enjoyable stroll down memory lane for me on this one! Memory is generally good about anything racing related, but if I missed any Grade 1 winner of the past 20 years, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I wanted to make this as complete and comprehensive a list as possible. Only runners based in Canada that shipped to the United States for a Grade 1 score! Enjoy the Alabama!

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Meet Adam Hickman
I join the Horse Racing Nation team as a longtime fan and enthusiastic student of Canadian thoroughbred racing. With 22 years of race-watching and form-studying under my belt, I’m a graduate of an era that brought stars like With Approval, Izvestia, Dance Smartly and Peteski. I spent the better part of the 1990s as a casual fan, attending races on weekends. I had the privilege of being in the grandstand on one of the premiere days in Woodbine lore – the 1996 Breeders’ Cup, the one and only time the Stanley Cup of thoroughbred racing was held outside of the United States.
In 2000, about two years after graduating from Carleton University with a Journalism degree, I crossed the apron and joined the employee ranks at the Woodbine Entertainment Group, taking a position as a field camera operator that eventually led to an Associate Producer’s role in the Woodbine Broadcast Department. I developed and produced several regular segments that have aired over Woodbine’s simulcast network as well as on the national network broadcasts.  In 2005, I moved to the Woodbine Publicity Office to perform various media relations duties and write for
If there’s a thread that defined my 11-year tenure during all three WEG positions, it’s that I engineered my contribution around bridging the information gap between fan and horse.  One such initiative came in 2010, when I endeavored to bring fans regular morning Woodbine workout coverage, shooting and uploading close to 500 videos over the season. While I have moved on from my communications coordinator position to pursue different freelance opportunities, my dedication to providing fans with relevant insight and unique information won’t ever cease to be a part of my ongoing adventures in horse racing.

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