By Michael Adolphson for woodbine.com
TORONTO, July 1 – A quartet of graded turf stakes support a stellar card — easily the best racing offering in North America during the holiday weekend — for Queen’s Plate Day 2017. Each race holds a logical favorite, but there is value to be had on a day that historically has rewarded the market maven.
Race 4 — Grade II $250,000 Highlander Stakes
The Grade II $250,000 Highlander Stakes for turf sprinters going six furlongs, the second-richest race on the card, commences stakes action. Unlike many turf sprints in America, the layout of Woodbine, with its sweeping turn and long, even-playing stretch arguably creates the atmosphere for the best horse to win. The 2-1 morning-line choice (likely to drop) in here is Abdullah Seed Almaddah’s Brad Cox-trained Green Mask, whose steady string of top efforts against the continent’s best turf sprinters demands respect, while his effort — a neck loss after a brief lead — in this race last year should be worth noting.
Even more worthy of notice is that he is 1-for-6 at this trip and has only been a clear winner in one of his previous seven starts. A closer look at that effort, the Grade III Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs two back on May 5, reveals a clear trip in which he reeled in a tired foe, front-running speedball Latent Revenge. All things told, the son of Mizzen Mast is a horse who has class — enough to finish third twice against the best turf sprinters in the world in the 2015 Al Quoz Sprint (GI) and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) — and runs to that class. The rub is that he seems to find a way to be out-gamed against whatever class he is facing and the long stretch at Woodbine does not help his chances.
Stephen Chesney and Cory Hoffman’s Kevin Attard-trained Calgary Cat, with his victory at these identical conditions in the Nearctic (GII) last fall will be tough and is the most logical on his third race off the layoff, but simply does not offer value (5-2 morning line) enough to take a strong stance on him — and, frankly, he did not run nearly as auspicious a race last out in the June 3 seven-panel Connaught Cup (GII) as runner-up Commute (8-1), who finished a head to his good after having a three-length advantage in mid-stretch. The cut-back and rail post are ideal for Gabe Grossberg and Sagamore Farm’s Mark Casse trainee, who should move forward in his fourth race of the season and appears to be a stronger, classier animal as a 5-year-old.
While a Casse barn member is unlikely offer that much value at Woodbine by the time the market closes, a horse worthy of a great deal of consideration who will likely offer all of his 6-1 morning line in Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s brilliantly bred and improving Commend, a half-brother to solid stallions Congrats and Flatter. Drawing an advantageous outside post seven of eight, this 4-year-old ridgling son of War Front exits a first-level Belmont Park allowance victory at this trip and — more importantly — hails from the always-dangerous Hall of Fame barn of Bill Mott. Jose Ortiz, plausibly the hottest jockey in America over the last 18 months, retains the mount on a charge who ran subsequent Grade II winner Holding Gold to his limit 11 months ago in his lone stakes try. One can assume that Holding Gold is higher on the Casse totem pole and Commute and Commend was a diminishing head astern said rival in the $100,000 Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga going 5 1/2 grassy furlongs.
Noholdingback Bear (4-1) looks to need the race and may be stuck with the early lead with a clean break, Don Camillo (20-1) and Sweet Grass Creek (20-1) appear outclassed and Hootenanny (8-1) is a question mark more questionable than quantifiable. Pass on those. Commend to out-kick the field with a smooth Ortiz ride at a price, Commute to run to his form trajectory and Green Mask and Calgary Cat to be right there, with Castellano out-riding Contreras. So, a ‘Comm-Comm’ upset exacta it is:
4. Green Mask
6. Calgary Cat
Calgary Cat…(Burns Photo)
Race 6 — Grade II $175,000 King Edward Stakes
In what appears to be a much more cut-and-dry race, the one-mile King Edward features Tom Van Meter II et al.’s Roger Attfield-trained Tower of Texas at a kind 2-1 morning line under Eurico Rosa Da Silva from post five of nine. With proven class, including a career-best effort when a half-length second to the mighty Tepin last fall in the Woodbine Mile (GI), he enters the same trip here off a well-timed victory in the Connaught Cup (GII) over seven furlongs.
It is easy to see why he will likely be a well-backed favorite, but there is a longshot worth considering hailing from the same barn in speedy Grade III winner Shakhimat, who breaks just outside him in post six. Long held in high regard by his Hall of Fame conditioner, the son of Aussie champ Lonhro (Aus) runs his best when given an easy lead and that may happen here. Add that Castellano picks up the mount — a seriously noteworthy rider change — and the sum is an 8-1 morning-line price play who could return to his best form, simply out-lasting a stablemate who is only 1-for-5 at this trip. Dan Gale and Richard Hogan’s nearly black gelding has every right to improve in a fourth start off the layoff — after a nine-month break — under these conditions.
If it were a beauty contest, it would be difficult to deny Stronach Stables’ Josie Carroll-trained Unbridled Juan, who also offers a solid value at 6-1 that may rise. Even more attractive than his appearance is his record, a reliable 17-for-17 in the money, making him an instant consideration for underneath plays. Making his first start on the turf, the homebred 5-year-old ridgling son of Unbridled’s Song and multiple graded stakes winner Sugar Swirl would not surprise if he runs just as well over the lawn, considering his pedigree.
If any rain at all happens, Stuart Simon-trained Dragon Bay (5-1) enters in top form for owners Brent and Russell McClellan, et al. and has proven form with cut in the ground. The 4-year-old son of Parading defeated classy handicapper Are You Kidding Me last out in the Eclipse (GII) over the Tapeta and has learned to rate more effectively as he has matured. He appears more preferable to play underneath than Gary Barber’s Casse-trained Monster Bea (3-1 second choice), whose class is strong, but needs a strong pace at which to run and will likely take too much money.
Hollywood Hideaway (10-1), Go Bro (20-1), Ikerrin Road (Ire) (20-1) and cross-entered Hootenanny (8-1) would all be surprises, though Ikerrin Road (Ire) could snag a piece if things work perfectly for him. Otherwise, it looks like Attfield exactor with a shocking Shakhimat making amends for his flat fifth in last year’s Queen’s Plate.
5. Tower of Texas
4. Unbridled Juan
1. Dragon Bay
Race 8 — Grade III $125,000 Singspiel Stakes
Brendan Walsh is one of the top up-and-coming trainers in North America and enters the Singspiel with deserving 2-1 morning-line favorite Reporting Star, owned by Merriebelle Stable. A classy old campaigner with seven wins from 37 starts, the son of Circular Quay enters off a front-running runner-up effort in the Louisville Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs over this 12-furlong trip. While he may be the controlling speed in stamina-laden septet, the in-form charge appears a little less appealing over the Woodbine layout than some of his rivals at this trip. With no tight turns to take advantage of advancing foes, he will have a difficult time opening up on his rivals and could be vulnerable to those who are true stayers.
One who will likely be well-supported is 2016 Louisville winner and third this year, Bullards Alley. A bona fide grinder, he exits a sixth in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup (GIII) — a race that looks much better for him when you consider the top-three spots were swept by Europeans. Much like his huge effort against Da Big Hoss last September over Kentucky Downs’ sweeping layout, the Wayne Spalding and Faron McCubbins-owned charge appears to be well-spotted by trainer Tim Glyshaw. The only thing he lacks here is value with a 3-1 morning line.
One who appears to be screaming such is Al and Bill Ulwelling’s 6-year-old Pumpkin Rumble (8-1), who breaks from the outside post under Jesse Campbell. Stamped by sire English Channel’s compact, emblazoned chestnut appearance, the smallish gelding has back-class to return to, despite recent ho-hum performances. Third last out going 10 furlongs in allowance company behind fellow Singspiel entrants Bangkok (7-2) and Ethical Funds (15-1), he makes his third start for capable conditioner Kevin Attard. More importantly, he returns to 12 furlongs, a trip over which he defeated multiple Grade I winner The Pizza Man by a nose in the 2016 Stars and Stripes (GIII) at Arlington in a four-horse blanket finish. Closing fastest of all that day under Mitchell Murrill, whose style is not too dissimilar to Campbell’s, he proved that his stamina is not in question. One race later, he finished within a length of The Pizza Man when ninth — beaten only three lengths — in the Arlington Million (GI), while said rival would go on to win the Northern Dancer (GI) one race after that.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the only other time Pumpkin Rumble tried 1 1/2 miles, his jockey made a dire mistake by drifting off the rail turning for home in a tough renewal of the 2016 John B. Connally Stakes (GIII). Da Big Hoss skirted clear that day by nearly five lengths, but Pumpkin Rumble — at 29-1 — held his own in fourth, finishing a length behind graded stakes-winning turf horses Kaigun and a neck astern Big John B. Arguably returning to his optimal trip after a positive series of drills, Pumpkin Rumble has a fighting chance to take the whole pie at a nice price.
Likely to run his race, but a step below what he once was, Sam-Son Farm’s venerable warrior Aldous Snow returns for his seasonal debut here. Victorious in this spot two years ago and a strong third last year, he must fire off the layoff under Da Silva for Malcolm Pierce, whose horses have been 27% off the shelf. Possible to take more money than his 6-1 morning line and likely to need the race at his 8-year-old age, the son of the great Theatrical (Ire) will have something to say about the race, it is just a matter of how much.
Bangkok is in top form, but the trip appears slightly out of reach against these types, while Ethical Funds and Curlins Pride (8-1) could be simply not good enough here.
7. Pumpkin Rumble
3. Reporting Star
6. Bullards Alley
1. Aldous Snow
Race 9 — Grade II $175,000 Dance Smartly Stakes
Named for the great Canadian and American champion filly Dance Smartly, the day’s feature for turf fillies and mares will be contested over 10 furlongs and appears to be the most predictable race of the day. Two fillies who ran respectably over this trip last fall in the E. P. Taylor (GI) — Juddmonte Farms’ Bill Mott-trained Suffused (GB) (8-5) and Lael Stables’ Chad Brown-conditioned Rainha Da Bateria (2-1) — return from their New York bases. Each appears to be capable of winning and it would not be a surprise to see the writing on the wall with a chalky exactor.
Of the pair, Suffused (GB) is the more likely winner if she runs remotely like her heartbreaking nose loss in the E. P. Taylor. Her rival appears to be a cut better at nine furlongs, but such could change if the pace slows down and it becomes a game of final-quarter accelerations. This will be a chess match from the spring of the latch between the top-two jockeys in America at the moment, Castellano on Rainha Da Bateria and Ortiz on Suffused (GB).
A horse I believe will be at an advantage setting the pace and with zero doubts as to her stamina is Casse-trained Belle de Nuit (Arg), a beautifully bred daughter of Galileo (Ire) and Argentine Group I winner La Belga (Arg). The three-quarter-sister to Russian classic winer Besamela (GB) makes her seasonal debut, but has a front-running victory over allowance foes last fall here going nine furlongs and deserves an underneath play at 15-1.
Giovanna Blues (20-1) is well-placed here to earn black-type for returning trainer Michael Dickinson, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) over this course in 1996 with Da Hoss. Impressive against much weaker in an April allowance at Laurel going 1 1/16-miles, the Dogwood Plantation homebred daughter of Gio Ponti is getting good at the right time and has a fantastic closing kick. She must improve about 10 lengths to defeat the top two, but her trajectory says she will be just fine finishing a solid third.
Soli Mehta and Partners’ Starship Jubilee (5-1) should take some money on the strength of four consecutive victories, ascending speed figures and a victory last out in the Nassau (GII) over a mile, but the class-climbing stalker is in deeper waters here and has been raced aggressively already this year with six starts. She picks up six pounds and, though her pedigree suggests it is within her range, must race beyond a mile for the first time in her career. A step back in form would not be a shock for the Kevin Attard trainee, but one can understand why this spot appeared too good to pass up for a streaking type who consistently posts quick drills.
If Gamble’s Ghost (12-1), Involuntary (10-1), Uchenna (Ire) (8-1) are not outrun by the competition, their stamina limitations do it instead. Uchenna (Ire) has class, but is best going shorter.
5. Suffused (GB)
4. Rainha Da Bateria
3. Giovanna Blues
7. Belle de Nuit (Arg)
Odds & Ends
There is money to be made on live longshots in the remaining stakes, the $1-million Queen’s Plate (Race 10) and $100,000 Charlie Barley (Race 12) — both for sophomores, with the former obviously restricted to Canadian foals.
At a delicious 20-1 on the morning line, Sam-Son Farm’s Pierce-trained Malibu Secret has every right to run a blinder in the biggest test of his career. Making just his fourth start, he should appreciate the step up in trip to 10 Tapeta furlongs with his stamina-laden pedigree and Dynaformer on the female side. He could also be more forwardly placed with the addition of blinkers. Hailing from the family of multiple graded stakes winner and Queen’s Plate runner-up Irish Mission, he drew favorably in mid-pack and picks up capable jockey Alan Garcia. Otherwise, it looks like Channel Maker’s race to lose if his rail post does not do it for him, with a pair of classy fillies giving him a run for it in Holy Helena and Inflexibility.
1. Channel Maker
8. Malibu Secret
3. Holy Helena
In the one-mile Charlie Barley on the turf, Made You Look is the horse to beat, but has made bettors look for better options after his last two non-efforts in graded stakes company. He should return to form here, but could be beaten by second-off-layoff Minister’s Strike, who comes in at a nice 8-1 price for Casse and breeder Debby Oxley. City Boy and Flowmotion should also have a say here, but the two with the most back-class appear toughest.
1. Minister’s Strike
2. Made You Look
4. City Boy
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.