By Michael Adolphson for woodbine.com
TORONTO, June 5 – The 2017 Woodbine Oaks, Presented by Budweiser, which is slated for Sunday June 11, is shaping up to be an intriguing affair as fillies based in both Canada and the United States come together for the marquee Canadian-foaled stakes of the year for sophomore fillies.
While the Canadian contingent is always tough, the Americans should prove worthy opponents, with at least three top conditioners sending live charges for the rich $500,000 purse. The heavy-hitting barn of defending Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Chad Brown, the always-dangerous Mike Stidham stable and the highly respected yard of Jimmy Jerkens each have contenders capable of stepping up in a big way.
The most accomplished of the trio is Stallionaire Enterprises’ Stallion Heiress. Trained by Stidham, who already owns a stakes victory at the meet when DARRS, Inc.’s R Naja took the $100,000 Star Shoot Stakes on Apr. 16, the two-time stakes winner from just four starts will be making her first start on a synthetic course after four career starts on grass. Dominant in her first three starts — all over Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots’ Stall-Wilson turf course — she took both the Broussard Memorial and LaCombe Memorial in gate-to-wire fashion with jockey Mitchell Murrill. Last out, after a two-month break, she caught a softer course on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs in the Grade III Edgewood Stakes, checking in 10th behind divisional leader La Coronel.
“She really is doing fantastic and training well,” Stidham said. “We’ll have one more work and then ship up to Woodbine. I really like how she’s coming into the race and I think she should appreciate the (nine-furlong) trip.”
The daughter of Exchange Rate, a $100,000 Keeneland September 2015 buy as a yearling, has trained in recent months over a similar Tapeta surface at Fair Hill in Maryland.
“I don’t know that training over it eliminates any doubts, because one track is a couple years old and one is much older — plus they change from morning training to afternoon racing because of the heat, but I do know that she gets over Fair Hill’s really well,” Stidham explained. “I’m just hoping that it’s an indication that she takes to synthetic courses as well as she does the grass.”
In Kentucky, Stallion Heiress raced over a soft course for the first time and immediately did not show her usual second acceleration in the stretch — something that has marked her as a filly to watch in her trio of triumphs. Stidham is hoping to see her show that brilliance again and will likely employ front-running tactics again when he legs up Florent Geroux for the first time. Geroux is fresh off an impressive local victory on Live Oak Plantation’s Mark Casse-trained Souper Tapit in the Grade III Marine Stakes over the same surface.
“The bottom line is that we were certainly concerned about the weather and track condition at Churchill Downs and as you watch the two days of Oaks and (Kentucky) Derby, with that surface the way it worked, it wasn’t complementing her style at all,” Stidham explained. “Speed on the front end wasn’t holding. If she would have put up a fight and they raced by her inside the eighth-pole, I would say she that she simply wasn’t good enough. She just packed it in and took care of herself. Luckily, since then I have seen no ill effects whatsoever and she’s trained forwardly at Fair Hill.”
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is revered as one of the most patient conditioners in America, as well as one of the most dangerous barns when the money is on the line. The trainer of Adena Springs’ top handicapper and Queen’s Plate champion Shaman Ghost ships in one for the same Frank Stronach banner in Holy Helena, a highly promising daughter of the same sire, Ghostzapper.
A homebred half-sister to Grade II-winning sprinter Holy Boss (by Street Boss), who was fourth in the 2015 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Holy Helena has proven to be more of a router than her sibling and was very impressive breaking her maiden at second-asking last out at Belmont Park May 12. A bit of a stalking grinder, she stepped up to a 1 1/16-miles at Belmont Park last out with aplomb and defeated well-regarded Todd Pletcher trainee Assertive in the process. She will try two turns and a synthetic course for the first time, but Jerkens worries not about either of those challenges.
“She shipped up to Woodbine (May 31) and is already in Mike Doyle’s barn,” Jerkens reported. “She acts like she’s pretty classy and is a very straight-forward filly. I don’t buy too much into the breeding for the Polytrack, especially because Ghostzappers seem to run on everything and get better with age. I hope she likes it and we sent her a little early so that she could get a good gallop over it and a nice work in company. In her last work, she was by herself and worked a nice seven furlongs. When you go that far, you want to give them a little two turn experience (over Belmont’s training track) and she did it nice and even all the way. She’s built like a distance horse and has a nice long body and neck to her. She has the stamina.
“She didn’t beat a stellar field last out, but I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare her because we wanted to get her going a distance of ground before going to (the Woodbine Oaks),” Jerkens continued. “We thought she could use the experience and she won, so we were very pleased. I think she’ll move forward off that race. Luis Contreras is most likely going to ride, as he rides a lot of Adena Springs’ horses at Woodbine.”
Chad Brown’s barn is capable wherever it goes and this year it has a serious contender for the Woodbine Oaks in Inflexibility, who hails from the same Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence ownership as recent Grade I Preakness Stakes conquerer Cloud Computing.
Like Holy Helena, the daughter of Scat Daddy is based in New York and recently annexed her first victory in Belmont maiden company — and like Stallion Heiress, she has only raced on grass in her pair of efforts. Bred by Anderson Farms, she showed marked acceleration when graduating over 1 1/16 grassy miles on May 4 and could also be one of two bred by said establishment in the Oaks, as the farm co-owns (with Narola, LLC) Catherine Day Phillips-trained contender Financial Recovery.
“As a breeder in Canada, this is the filly race we all strive to win,” said David Anderson, principal. “I’m very fortunate and proud this year to have two Anderson-breds in the entry box. Both Financial Recovery and Inflexibility grew up in the same field.
“Inflexibility was a farm favorite,” Anderson continued. “From the day she hit the ground, she was always special in my mind and I’m very grateful she was sold to such wonderful connections.”
The Americans may be pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but they are driving full-throttle into one of Canada’s top racing events with additions that will create an enthralling competitive environment.
PROBABLE FIELD FOR THE WOODBINE OAKS (11):
Horse / Jockey / Trainer
Cindervella / Jesse Campbell / Mike DePaulo
Ellan Vannin / Jeffrey Alderson / Tony Gattellaro
Enstone / Patrick Husbands / Mark Casse
Financial Recovery / TBA / Catherine Day Phillips
Gertie T / Rafael Hernandez / Norm McKnight
Ghostly Presence / TBA / Roger Attfield
Holy Helena / Luis Contreras / James Jerkens
Inflexibility / Joel Rosario / Chad Brown
Miss Adele / TBA / Roger Attfield
Mythical Mission / Eurico Rosa da Silva / Malcolm Pierce
Stallion Heiress / Florent Geroux / Michael Stidham
PROBABLE FIELD FOR THE PLATE TRIAL (7):
King and His Court
State of Honor
Tiz a Slam
Michael Adolphson works in publicity at Fair Grounds Race Course and is a contributor to the Thoroughbred Daily News and BloodHorse among others. Follow Michael on Twitter @AdolphsonRacing.