TORONTO, June 30—Green Mask and Calgary Cat will be looking for repeat trips to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint when they compete in Sunday’s Grade 2 $250,00 Highlander Stakes on Woodbine’s turf course.
The winner of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Highlander, slated for six furlongs on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, will earn an automantic berth into the Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint to be run over five furlongs at Del Mar later this year. The first horse to earn an automatic berth was the 6-year-old gelding Chautauqua (AUS), who won the Darley TJ Smith Stakes at Royal Randwick in Australia on April 1.
While Calgary Cat qualified for a spot in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita with his win here in the Grade 2 Nearctic at six furlongs, Green Mask’s connections paid the freight and the year previously when the gelding finished a close third over five furlongs at Keeneland.
And that fact is not lost on trainer Brad Cox, who trains Green Mask for Almaddah Saaed Abdullah
“He ran well in the Highlander last year,” said Cox, who had watched Green Mask run second, beaten a neck by Passion for Action, in last year’s renewal. “And the ‘Win and You’re In’, Breeders’ Cup, has a little bit to do with it.
“He’s doing well, so we figured we’d give it a shot.”
Green Mask is coming off a second-place finish in Belmont’s Grade 3 Jaipur a six-furlong race in which he was beaten a half-length by Disco Partner in world-record time of 1:05.67.
“He’s in as good form as he’s ever been,” said Cox, of the Kentucky-bred 6-year-old. “He’s been pretty consistent, especially since the Breeders’ Cup. I think we’ve placed him really well, and he’s rewarded us every time we brought him over there.”
Green Mask had trouble early in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, which was run over 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside course at Santa Anita, and finished well to be fifth. Since then he has two wins and three seconds, all in turf stakes.
“He’s running back a shade quick,” said Cox, of the three weeks since the Jaipur. “But he is doing well; he had a fantastic breeze on Monday at Belmont. I think we’re set up for a big effort.”
Javier Castellano, whose first partnership with Green Mask yielded a victory in the five-furlong Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs on May 5, was back aboard for the Jaipur and retains the mount for the Highlander.
“He has to be ridden right; he’s a little bit off a funny horse to ride,” said Cox. “Javier’s done an incredible job.”
Green Mask will carry 121 pounds.
Calgary Cat also was far back early in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and finished a flying fourth. Canada’s champion male sprinter in 2014, the 7-year-old has since developed into a turf specialist for trainer Kevin Attard. Calgary Cat has started twice this year, both over seven furlongs of grass, finishing sixth in Belmont’s Elusive Belmont and third the Grade 2 Connaught Cup.
“I was disappointed with his race at Belmont, but the turf had a little give to it,” said Attard, who conditions Calgary Cat for owners Stephen Chesney and Cory Hoffman. “He wasn’t his old self, it seemed.”
Calgary Cat certainly was back in form for the Connaught Cup, however, as he came flying late to miss by a nose and a head.
“His race in the Connaught Cup was very good,” said Attard. “I was a little skeptical about the seven furlongs. He was pretty far back but he came home quickly. The cutback to six furlongs helps."
Regular rider Luis Contreras will be aboard Calgary Cat, who will carry topweight of 123 pounds.
Commute still will be looking for his first stakes win and after his trainer, Mark Casse, thought he already had it when the 5=year-old was beaten a dirty nose in the Connaught Cup.
“I knew it was close, but even after watching the slow-motion replay I thought he’d won,” said Casse. “I was disappointed—certainly not in the horse, but in the fact that he didn’t win.”
Patrick Husbands will ride Commute, who is owned by Gabe Grossberg and Sagamore Farm.
Noholdingback Bear won sprint stakes at Woodbine, Presque Isle and Parx Racing last season and was the champion male sprinter for trainer Mike DePaulo. The Bear Stable runner faltered in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and made his firsts two starts this year at Belmont for trainer Brian Lynch, running a good second in the Diablo but then seventh in the Grade 2 Royal North. Now back at Woodbine with DePaulo for the past couple of weeks, Noholdingback Bear will be trying the E.P. Taylor turf course for the first time.
His only previous grass race came at Gulfstream Park, where he finished second behind the speedy Manhattan Dancer in the five-furlong Texas Glitter.
“He was coming off a seven-eighths race” said DePaulo. “The rider kind of took a hold, and he was out of it.”
Eurico Rosa da Silva, who was Noholdingbackbear’s regular rider here, has regained the mount.
Commend will be stepping up in class for trainer Bill Mott.
“He’s not a stakes winner but he’s a talented horse,” said Mott. “He’s doing well.”
Commend came very close to winning the Quick Call, a 5 ½-furlong turf race at Saratoga, rallying late to miss by ahead. In his most recent appearance, the 4-year-old annexed his first allowance condition over six furlongs of grass at Belmont. Jose Ortiz retains the mount.
Hootenanny was a sensation at 2, displaying his precocity while sprinting in England and France and winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in his last appearance of the season. Since then the now 5-year-old Hootenanny has just one win to show from seven starts, that coming in a one-mile turf allowance race at Belterra Park, although he did run well when fourth in last year’s Highlander. Trainer Wesley Ward has cross-entered Hootenanny in Sunday’s King Edward, a Grade 3 race at one mile on the turf.
Locals Don Camillo and Sweet Grass Creek round out the Highlander lineup.