Gary Barber's Lexie Lou makes her first start since a glorious 1 1/2-length win in the Queen's Plate last month in Sunday's$250,000 Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine.
Lexie Lou, who also won the Woodbine Oaks in June, will be making her turf debut in the race.
"This is why we bought her," said Mark Casse, conditioner of Lexie Lou. "Gary had done the homework on her and we thought her numbers were good, but not great, on synthetic. Our feeling was that she could be better on the grass and if her number did improve on the grass, she could be as good as any three-year-old filly in North America."
The 1 1/4-miles jaunt over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course is the final leg of the filly Triple Tiara which Lexie Lou started in style with a rousing score in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser on June 15. Unspurned captured the second leg of the Triple Tiara, the Bison City Stakes, on July 13, just one week after Lexie Lou's spine-tingling victory over the boys in the $1-million Queen's Plate.
Well regarded as a juvenile, Lexie Lou rattled off a record of 3-2-1 from eight starts and purse earnings in excess of $300,000. Following her 2014 debut on April 19, a fourth-place effort in the Star Shoot Stakes, she was purchased privately by Barber from former owner-trainer John Ross.
The bay daughter of Sligo Bay-Oneexcessivenite has continued to improve with each start for Casse.
A blinkered Lexie Lou, with Patrick Husbands up for the first time, finished third in the seven furlong Fury Stakes, defeated just half a length, by eventual Oaks rivals Wild Catomine and Hot and Spicy.
The blinkers came off for the 1 1/8-miles Oaks and Lexie Lou responded with a powerful effort running away to a 4 1/2-lengths score earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure.
On July 6, Lexie Lou tackled the boys for the first time in the Queen's Plate and delighted a packed Woodbine grandstand with a driving score in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
It would seem the filly is improving as distance increases.
"I just recently watched the TSN broadcast of the Queen's Plate and they filmed her galloping out and she just kept going," said Casse. "I think the key with her is Patrick's ability to get her to relax. That started with us taking the blinkers off of her a couple starts back."
The Queen's Plate score was the first for Casse and despite a comfortable margin of victory, he admits, that unlike his filly; he was unsettled throughout particularly in the closing stages as Ami's Holiday made a late bid.
"I was holding my breath until the end. Patrick celebrated about three or four jumps before the wire which also gave me heart failure," recalled Casse. "I could see Josie's colt (Ami's Holiday, trained by Josie Carroll) running up on the inside. I thought We Miss Artie was one to beat, but I thought Josie's horse would be right there as well and when I saw her horse run up on the inside it scared me. I didn't feel confident until after she crossed the wire."
Lexie Lou will make her turf racing debut in the Wonder Where, a surface she is bred to enjoy. Her dam, Oneexcessivenite, won four of 18 starts of which three wins came over the green. More importantly, her sire Sligo Bay, a son of the great Sadler's Wells, is a Grade 1 winner on the grass.
Lexie Lou breezed over the Woodbine training turf on July 23 covering five furlongs in 1:01.80.
"Patrick said she loved it. All indications are that she'll like the grass, she's bred for it, but until you actually see it you hold your breath," said Casse.
That breeze was actually the filly's second timed effort over the Woodbine training turf. Lexie Lou breezed four furlongs in :48.60 last August under the direction of Ross, who was considering trying the filly in the grassy Natalma Stakes.
"I breezed her on the grass and she went really well," Ross said, in the Daily Racing Form following Lexie Lou's DQ score in the August 28 Muskoka Stakes last year. "I actually entered her in the Natalma prep, but it didn't fill, so I popped her back in the (Muskoka)."
Ross ended up skipping the Natalma and instead finished second in the Victorian Queen, so this Sunday's Wonder Where will mark Lexie Lou's belated, but much anticipated, turf debut.
"If she does really well and can run on the grass like we hope she can, it will open up a bunch of avenues for her," said Casse. "We'll take it one step at a time. Obviously, there's the E.P. Taylor (a Grade 1 turf stake) a little further down the road, but right now we'll just worry about the next race which comes up on Sunday."
While Lexie Lou will be the media focus this weekend at Woodbine, it's worth noting that Casse saddles a filly, Dixie Twist, he hopes will be a future Oaks prospect on Saturday in the Ontario Debutante.
Out of the Grade 3 winning mare Dixie Talking, the $180,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is a half-sister of 2012 Grade 3 Illinois Derby champ Done Talkin.
Owned by John Oxley, the Ontario-bred bay daughter of Indian Charlie finished second on debut in the Shady Well Stakes, defeated 2 1/2-lengths by Ontario Debutante rival Starless Night, after a troubled trip.
"We think she's one of our better fillies," said Casse. "She trained well this winter in Florida and then came up here and had a couple little issues early on at Woodbine."
Casse's viewing experience of the Shady Well debut was just as troubled as his filly's trip in the 5 1/2-furlong 'Poly' sprint.
"I was at the Fasig-Tipton horse sale when she ran and just as they loaded into the gate, the satellite went out," recalled Casse. "We were all struggling to get the video up on our phones and iPads and when we got it on they were going to the half-mile pole. Next thing you know, she took a right-hand turn and went straight."
The comment line on the race notes that Dixie Twist, with Gary Boulanger aboard, was checked five wide into the turn.
"Talking to Gary, he said a horse came out on him and it scared her so she shied from the horse," explained Casse. "Take nothing away from the winner, she was impressive, but this filly had tons of issues. She ran something like 40 feet further than everyone else, was stopped, but she never gave up and kept on running. That's why I'm running her back in a stake instead of a maiden race."
Casse is buoyed by Dixie Twist's July 26 breeze in which she covered five furlongs in 1:01.80.
"She came back and worked really nice with Conquest Harlanate going head and head and that one came back to win impressively (on August 3)," said Casse. "All the indications are that she's a good horse and just needs a few things to go her way on Saturday."
While the 2015 Oaks winner might be among the entrants in Saturday's $125,000 Ontario Debutante, there is no doubt that Canadian racing fans will be focused on Oaks/Queen's Plate heroine Lexie Lou on Sunday.
"I know Patrick will try to get her relaxed as best he can. Hopefully she'll turn off for him and then take off when he asks her to run," said Casse. "It's a new surface and the circumference of the track is different. They'll break and go into that hairpin turn so we're throwing some new things at her. If I told you I knew how she'd react to all this, I'd be lying. I can only hope."
The $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes is carded as Race 9 on Sunday's 10-race programme. Co-featured on Sunday's card is the Grade 2 Play the King Stakes, which will go as Race 6. Fans can watch and wager on the card via HorsePlayer Interactive.
FIELD FOR THE $250,000 WONDER WHERE STAKES
POST / HORSE / JOCKEY / TRAINER
1 / Llanarmon / David Moran / Roger Attfield
2 / Lexie Lou / Patrick Husbands / Mark Casse
3 / Skylander Girl / Emile Ramsammy / Alexander Patykewich
4 / Lapsang / Jesse Campbell / Suzanne Drake
5 / Hantaloop / Gary Boulanger / Roger Attfield
6 / Fancy Ribbons / Emma-Jayne Wilson / Ian Black
7 / Chique to Chique / Gerry Olguin / Roger Attfield
8 / Regal Conqueror / Eurico Rosa da Silva / Darwin Banach