TORONTO, February 14 – When there’s a graded race on the turf, it’s no surprise to see trainer Roger Attfield’s name among the entries.
And it will be double the pleasure for Attfield fans on Saturday, as Woodbine’s dual Hall of Fame trainer is represented by a pair of top turfers in Florida with Hollinger in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes, at Tampa Bay Downs; and Janicellaine in the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes, at Gulfstream Park.
The now six-year-old Hollinger, undefeated in four starts as a two-year-old en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion two-year-old male in 2009, is a hard-trying turf specialist.
Last time out, however, in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes, at Gulfstream, the consistent Black Minnaloushe grey finished an uncharacteristic ninth in his 2013 debut.
"He got stopped really badly in his last race and it doesn’t show that in the form, funnily enough," noted Attfield, over the phone from Florida. "He would have been second or third in there (had he not been stopped), running just the same as he has been. He just can’t seem to win one, but he keeps knocking away at it."
Hollinger, a Robert Harvey homebred, compiled four seconds and a third through eight starts in 2012 while racing primarily in Grade 1 and Grade 2 events, including a smart second-place effort in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, won by Get Stormy.
Attfield believes a first try over the Tampa Bay turf should favour his grey gelding.
"The turf course is better over at Tampa anyway at this moment," explained Attfield. "The Gulfstream turf has been pretty hard and fast and dusty and all kinds of things as you can see from the TV."
Hollinger will be ridden for the first time on Saturday by Woodbine-based Patrick Husbands. The duo teamed up for a sharp four-panel breeze in :47 flat, at Payson Park on February 12.
"Patrick worked him the other morning at Payson Park and they got on very well together," offered Attfield.
Husbands will be asked to time Hollinger’s run just right in the 1 1/16-mile stake that will feature a full field of 12, including graded turf winners Big Blue Kitten, Swift Warrior, Doubles Partner, Roman Tiger and Cash Rules.
"I’m sure he’ll be prominently placed," said Attfield. "It seems that if he’s on the lead too long, he can get caught at the wire."
With the Gulfstream turf firm at the moment, Attfield decided to try Janicellaine rather than Kissable, who favours a bit of give in the ground, in the 1 3/8-mile Grade 3 The Very One.
Owned by Three Chimneys Racing, LLC, Janicellaine endured a difficult trip in the prep for this event when sixth, defeated 3 1/2-lengths by Kadaya, who is a likely favourite in The Very One.
"She didn’t settle at all in that race and it cost her," said Attfield.
Attfield, with a second and two thirds from nine starts, is still searching for his first win of 2013, but isn’t letting the pressure get to him.
"Janicellaine is another one that runs consistently well, but just isn’t winning…which seems to be the story of my life lately!" he laughed.
However, with 1,754 career wins in a storied career that includes a remarkable 27-1 score with Perfect Shirl in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, punters can be certain that it won’t be long before Attfield is having his picture snapped in the winner’s circle once more – – and perhaps, Janicellaine, is the mare to take him there.
"She’s a very rank filly and she loves to run," said Attfield. "People have criticized various rides on her in the past, but she’s not an easy filly to ride. If she’s ever settled properly, she’ll probably throw a really big race one of these days because she’s very well and trains very well."
And who better than Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, the rider who engineered Perfect Shirl’s historic win, to take the reins on the high-strung miss?
"If anybody can do it, Johnny can," agreed Attfield.
The Very One Stakes, carded as Race 8 on Gulfstream’s Saturday card, goes to post at 4:05 p.m.; while the Tampa Bay Stakes, listed as race 9 on Saturday’s card at Tampa Bay Downs, goes to post at 4:25 p.m.
Another familiar face in action at Gulfstream on Saturday is Ian Black’s graded stakes winner, Fifty Proof.
The seven-year-old Whiskey Wisdom chestnut takes on a field of 10 top turfers in the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida Stakes.
Fifty Proof, who boasts a record of three wins and four seconds from 10 starts on the lawn, will be piloted by Elvis Trujillo.
The Mac Diarmida, carded as Race 10, goes to post at 5:05 p.m.
Racing fans can watch and wager on all of these races via HorsePlayer Interactive.