Paladin Bay, Wild Catomine and Hot and Spicy top a select but ultra-competitive field of nine Canadian-foaled three-year-old fillies for the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, Sunday at Woodbine.
The filly classic, at one mile and one-eighth, will go postward at 5:45 p.m. and will be televised live on TSN2, as part of a one and one-half hour special from 4:30 -6:00 p.m. ET.
The winner receives $300,000. In addition, the Plate Trial (at 5:10 p.m.), also at one and one-eighth miles, featuring Queen's Plate Winterbook favourite We Miss Artie for Canada's most famous horse race on Sunday, July 6, drew seven and will be also shown live during the telecast.
Paladin Bay, trained by Harold Ladouceur for his wife Jessie, is the leading money winner in the Oaks field by a wide margin, having earned $569,700 in her 11 lifetime starts.
The Ontario-bred daughter of Sligo Bay-Stormin Wife boasts four wins (including the prestigious Princess Elizabeth Stakes), four seconds and two thirds, along with one fourth place finish (in her debut last June). She was the runner-up to Ria Antonia in Sovereign Award balloting as Canada's top two-year-old filly last year.
Not only has Paladin Bay been a juggernaut, but she's also financially helped the backstretch chaplaincy, since the Ladouceurs donate a portion of her earnings to that cause.
"Everything's so good right now, touch wood. I just want to keep on that same track as long as I can until this season is over," said the six-foot Ladouceur, who not only trains the filly but is also her regular exercise rider.
"Jessie and I set a little plan back in February. We picked out our races. That was up to the Oaks. After the Oaks, we'll evaluate the situation and make another little plan, I guess, for the races we want to run.
"We're nominated up to the Plate but I'm not 100% sure if we're going to run in there or not. I'm not against it. But a lot of fillies sometimes don't run that good (after the Oaks) when they do compete in the Plate. That's always in the back of our head."
Paladin Bay comes into the Oaks off an impressive tally in the one mile and one-sixteenth Selene Stakes, May 18, when she collared odds-on My Conquestadory with a rail-skimming charge through the lane, getting up by a nose after a mid-stretch battle to the wire. It was her fifth career race at a mile or over and she also carried 124 pounds. For the scale-weight Oaks, all fillies carry 121 pounds, so she'll actually be dropping three pounds.
"I'm not really worried about the distance," continued Ladouceur. "I think she's going to like that distance. She just seems to get stronger and stronger and stronger. The farther you go the more she wants to grab a hold of the bit and go. It's the feel she gives you when you're on her. She just floats over the track."
Paladin Bay tuned up for the Oaks with a five furlong breeze in 1:02, handily over Woodbine's Polytrack on June 8. Six days earlier she blitzed the same distance in :59 4/5, breezing. As always, she'll be ridden in the Oaks by Gerry Olguin, who has been aboard in all of her starts.
"I was happy with it (the most recent work)," said Ladouceur. "It wasn't a blistering time but she looks like she's just galloping. She does it so easy. All we can do now is hope for the best."
While Paladin Bay may go postward the favourite, she'll face serious challenges, including a pair from the Mark Casse barn, undefeated Wild Catomine and Lexie Lou, a trio from the Roger Attfield stable, Llanarmon, Unspurned and Storm Now and a threat from Hot and Spicy, trained by James Bond.
Casse won back-to-back Oaks in 2006-2007 with Kimchi and champion Sealy Hill. He also was second last year with Spring in the Air to Nipissing.
John Oxley's Wild Catomine is unbeaten in two career outings, both at seven furlongs over Woodbine's Polytrack. After breaking her maiden on April 19, she moved right into stakes company on May 10 and hung on gamely to win the Fury Stakes by a half-length over a charging Hot and Spicy.
The last filly to win both the Fury and Oaks was Eye of the Sphynx in 2004. The daughter of Milwaukee Brew-Smart Catomine, a $111,000 yearling purchase, will be ridden by Gary Boulanger, who piloted Dancethruthedawn to victories in both the Oaks and Queen's Plate back in 2001. Oxley's Gal In A Ruckus won the 1995 Oaks.
Casse's other Oaks hopeful, Lexie Lou, is now owned by Gary Barber, who purchased the filly from owner-trainer John Ross prior to the Fury, when she finished a closing third, just a half-length behind her stablemate and a head behind Hot and Spicy . Last year was a banner campaign for the daughter of Sligo Bay-Oneexcessivenite, as she won three of eight starts, $324,250 and battled with rival Paladin Bay for most of the year, winning two of their six encounters. Patrick Husbands, who was aboard both Kimchi and Sealy Hill for their Oaks triumphs, will ride.
Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, a three-time Oaks winner with Playlist (1986), Plenty of Sugar (1994) and Capdiva (1997), sends out Harlequin Ranches' homebred Llanarmon, a daughter of Sky Mesa out of 2005 Oaks winner Gold Strike.
A winner in two of five starts, she won the Natalma on turf last year when breaking her maiden. Javier Castellano, who piloted Ginger Brew to a 2008 Oaks win, will climb aboard for the first time.
Unspurned, a homebred daughter of Lemon Drop Kid-Banga Ridge for owner Christine Hayden, has only raced once this year, winning a seven furlong allowance contest, but has worked extremely well since. Last year, she was second in the Mazarine, third to Paladin Bay in the Princess Elizabeth and was an eventful sixth to stablemate Llanarmon, when forced to jump over a fallen rider in mid-stretch in the Natalma. Justin Stein retains the mount.
Storm Now, owned and bred by Robert Evans (owner of recent Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and who races 2012 Oaks winner Irish Mission), is still a maiden after five outings. The daughter of Tiznow-Storm Tide was a $450,000 yearling purchase and will be ridden by Chantal Sutherland-Kruse. No maiden has ever won the Oaks since it began in 1956.
W.L. Clifton's Hot and Spicy, a daughter of Tale of the Cat-Dynamite Cocktail, was a $250,000 Keeneland yearling purchase. She debuted on the lawn this year at Gulfstream Park and won by a length and a quarter, then shipped to Woodbine, finishing a closing second to Wild Catomine in the Fury. Luis Contreras, who completed the Oaks-Plate double with Inglorious in 2011, will ride.
$500,000 Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser
Sunday, June 15, Woodbine Polytrack, One mile and one-eighth
Race 10 Post time: 5:45 p.m.
1/Paladin Bay/Gerry Olguin
4/Call Her Karma/David Moran
5/Storm Now/Chantal Sutherland-Kruse
6/Wild Catomine/Gary Boulanger
7/Hot and Spicy/Luis Contreras
8/Lexie Lou/Patrick Husbands