TORONTO, September 15 – In the sport of horse racing, nothing is more rewarding than watching a homebred carry your silks to the winner’s circle. A Grade 1 victory is the highest honour.
On Saturday, those hopes will ride on the shoulders of Passion for Action for his owner and breeder Benjamin Hutzel in the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
Trained by Mike DePaulo, Passion for Action is trying to give the pair their first Grade 1 win and earn an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 5. But to do so, the fleet-footed colt must run down a giant in champion mare Tepin who is the 1-2 morning line favourite and is coming into the Mile on a seven-race winning streak. Luis Contreras will ride Passion for Action.
A four-time stakes winner, Passion for Action won three of those this year taking the Jacques Cartier on April 9, the seven-furlong Grade 3 Vigil on May 7 and the Grade 2 Highlander on Queen’s Plate day. Still, he is a long shot at odds of 20-1.
By champion sprinter Speightstown, the four-year-old colt is out of Hutzel’s stakes winning mare Maritime Passion. As a juvenile, she also showed great promise, until an injury ended her budding racing career.
Hutzel first got involved in racing more than thirty years ago when he and fellow lawyer and friend Roger Doe bought a prospect at the 1984 yearling sale at Woodbine. Named Boulder Hall, the bay son of Stonewalk would go on to win multiple stakes, here and south of the border, including the Bunty Lawless, the Connaught Cup and the Jockey Club Stakes.
“We thought ‘wow, this is easy,” recalls Hutzel, who, while a law student at the University of Toronto, played half-back for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “The next several years were not nearly as easy.”
Hutzel continued to buy and race his own racehorses and also became a member of The Very Dry Stable, a long-running racing syndicate based out of Woodbine that over the years has won more than $3 million. About 10 years ago, he ventured into breeding, purchasing fillies as possible broodmare prospects, including Ben’s Dancin, who produced Grandy’s Glory, who won the Franfreluche Stakes at Woodbine in 2006.
Hutzel, a retired partner at corporate law firm Bennett Jones and Woodbine Entertainment Group board member was also part-owner (along with former WEG CEO David Willmot and current WEG board member John Fielding) of fan-favourite Fifty Proof. The towering chestnut gelding was a graded stakes winner at Woodbine and travelled to Japan to compete in the prestigious Grade 1 Japan Cup.
In 2007, Hutzel purchased Maritime Passion as a weanling from Keeneland’s November sale.
“She’s turned out to be something awesome,” he said.
Trained by De Paulo, the daughter of Stormy Atlantic broke her maiden at first asking and won the Shady Well Stakes at Woodbine in only her second start.
“We were offered a lot of money for her as a two-year-old, but then she injured herself,” said Hutzel. “She just took a bad step.”
Maritime Passion recovered and joined Hutzel’s small broodmare band. Her first foal, a colt by Pulpit is currently campaigning for Hutzel with Gulfstream-based trainer Peter Walder and has won four of 29 starts. Her second foal is Passion for Action.
“He’s turned out to be absolutely unbelievable, quite frankly,” said Hutzel, of Passion for Action. “One of the nicest horses I’ve ever had and one of the best sprinters we’ve had on the grounds for quite a while.”
Hutzel was inspired to send Maritime Passion to Speightstown, a Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, after watching Essence Hit Man, a super speedy son of Speightstown, dominate Woodbine sprinting ranks. Hutzel also liked the sire of Speightstown, Gone West.
“I’m a bit of a pedigree buff,” he said. “You just got to get lucky with the right horse.”
Passion for Action’s half-sister, Maritimeconnection, a two-year-old daughter of Lookin’ At Lucky will debut in race 5 on Friday at Woodbine. Maritime Passion also has a weanling daughter by More Than Ready and is in foal to Elusive Quality, another son of Gone West.
Passion for Action will be one of just two Ontario-breds in the eight-horse Woodbine Mile. He has post position #6, while Tepin, drew stall #8 and will run for the first time since her magnificent victory in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 14.
“I’m not scared of Tepin at all,” said Hutzel, who says his only wish is that there is some speed for his colt to run down in the stretch.
The last locally-based horse to win the Mile was Rahy’s Attorney in 2008, who earned subsequent folk hero status with his wire-to-wire triumph.
For Hutzel, a top-three finish would “be awesome” against an international field of this quality.
“I’m not scared of any horse,” said Hutzel. “He’s not a big horse but he’s got a tremendous heart.”
Hutzel is hoping with a little bit of talent and a little bit of luck to go along with that tremendous heart will get Passion for Action to the winner’s circle in Saturday’s Ricoh Woodbine Mile.