TORONTO, February 21 – Welcome to the eighth edition of the weekly Snowbirds report, now in its sixth year, chronicling the winter adventures of Woodbine-based trainers and jockeys currently plying their trade south of the border.
This week, we check in with Danny Vella, who has a small, seven-horse string at Gulfstream Park this winter. Vella has yet to find the winner’s circle at Gulfstream thus far, but does have five in-the-money finishes from 14 starters, including a third-place finish from Something Awesome last week on February 17.
“We’ve had a few close calls,” Vella said. “We had some seconds that could have been wins and some thirds that could have been seconds, but that’s the way racing goes sometimes. We haven’t been over active. We have a few that are getting ready and stuff like that. All and all so far, everything’s ok.”
Among Vella’s seven-horse string in Florida is Queen’s Plate contender, Channel Maker, who is working towards his 3-year old debut. Channel Maker had a strong 2-year old campaign that featured a win in the Vandal Stakes and a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine. Channel Maker also ran in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf where he finished seventh behind Oscar Performance. Vella said Channel Maker was sent to the farm in Ocala following the Breeders’ Cup, but arrived at Gulfstream Park in good order to gear up for his 2017 campaign.
[Follow Channel Maker’s progress on his Facebook page curated by groom Charlie Brown.]
“He was in great shape when he came back from the farm,” he said. “The time off did him some good. He filled out well. He still looks like a young horse still. He’s a bit leggy, but he’ll grow into himself eventually. He’s come back nice and relaxed and he’s trained very good for this first race. He doesn’t work on the dirt track here as he would on the synthetic surface at home, but he’s very fit now and he’s ready to go.”
Vella said Channel Maker was on target to make his next start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Palm Beach Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Gulfstream Park on March 4. Following that, Vella said it was possible Channel Maker would remain at Gulfstream for another start before returning home.
“There’s a chance we’ll stay here and run him again early in April, but that’ll all depend on how he runs,” he said.
So handsome! Channel Maker enjoying the snowbird life… (Charlie Brown)
Vella said he nominated an additional two horses to the Queen’s Plate, including the unraced Buttermilk Pike and Gordie Mac, who was beaten a combined four lengths in two starts against Ontario-sired maiden special weight company at Woodbine last season.
“Buttermilk Pike is a really, nice big gelding,” Vella said. “Obviously, he’s been behind. He hasn’t started, but he’s a gorgeous horse and we hope he has a big future. He probably won’t make the race, but one thing’s for sure, if you’re not nominated, you’ll never make it.”
Vella said he expected Gordie Mac would get a chance to run early on in the Woodbine meet. After he started slowly in his career debut, he closed well to finish fifth in a six-furlong sprint on November 5. In his second start he got a much better start, gunning out to an early lead in a seven-furlong sprint on November 27, but couldn’t hold on in the final strides. Vella said he also has high hopes for Gordie Mac moving into his 3-year old season.
“First time out he kind of just fell out of the gate and loped along, and then closed really, really well,” he said. “I was really pleased with that. Then second time out, he kind of cost himself the race just being too aggressive. We can temper that. Age will help us a little bit and we can breeze him in behind some horses in the spring to teach him to relax a little better. He just learned a little too quick, but he’s a pretty nice horse.”
Four Woodbine trainers found the winner’s circle last week, led by Mark Casse, who recorded five wins from 21 starts between Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, and Tampa Bay Downs. Tour De Force (Feb. 16) and Souper Tapit (Feb. 18) won at Fair Grounds, Siding Spring (Feb. 18) and Adonis Creed (Feb. 19) won at Gulfstream Park, and Graceful Heart (Feb. 19) won at Tampa Bay Downs for Casse last week.
Adonis Creed fights his way to victory…(Gulfstream Park Photo)
Ashlee Brnjas won three of her five starts at Tampa Bay Downs last week, as Im On It (Feb. 15), Azimut (Feb. 16), and Forever Krz (Feb. 16) all found the winner’s circle. Brnjas’ other starters of the week included a runner-up finish from High Society and an eighth-place finish from Reserved, both of which came on February 16.
Noble Thought recorded a win at Tampa Bay Downs on February 19 for Malcolm Pierce last week. Pierce’s other two starters of the week ran third in their respective races at Tampa Bay Downs, as Quiet Sea was third on February 17 and Southern Ring was third in the Minaret Stakes on February 18.
Michael Wright recorded a winner from five starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, as My Perfect Diamond won by a nose on February 18. Wright also got in-the-money finishes from Unbridled Majesty (2nd, Feb. 15), Dash of Dazzle (3rd, Feb. 16), and Notaloneinhishead (3rd, Feb. 19), while Fiery Bear was sixth on February 16.
A pair of Woodbine jockeys were also victorious last week, as Gary Boulanger recorded a winner at Tampa Bay Downs, while Luis Contreras recorded a winner at Santa Anita.
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Sid Attard, who saddled Supreme Commander to a runner-up finish at Gulfstream Park on February 19. Attard’s other starter of the week, First Girl, finished fifth at Gulfstream on February 17.
Tino Attard had one starter at Gulfstream Park last week, as Land Ho finished sixth on February 17.
Julie Belhumeur sent out a pair of starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, including Megalin Candy (7th, Feb. 15) and Expialidocious (8th, Feb. 15).
Call Her Karma finished second in the Lady Bird Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 20 for Julia Carey.
Josie Carroll recorded one in-the-money finish from three starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Gliding By was second on February 19. Carroll’s other starters of the week at Gulfstream Park included Tesseron (5th, Feb. 15) and Silhouette (4th, Feb. 19).
Steven Chircop also recorded one in-the-money finish from three starters last week at Penn National, as Tigne was third on February 18. Chircop also sent out Philanthromister (9th, Feb. 17) and Extremist (6th, Feb. 18) last week.
Mike De Paulo had a runner-up and a third-place finish from four starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Eminent Force was second on February 15 and Too Stormy was third on February 15. De Paulo’s other starters of the week included Conquest Rapiduno (5th, Feb. 16) and Timingiseverything (8th, Feb. 19).
Eminent Force (Courtesy of Josie DePaulo)
Nicholas Gonzalez continued his strong run of in-the-money finishes at Gulfstream Park last week, as Flashy Val was second on February 15 and Wilshire Star was third on February 17. Gonzalez also sent out Berliner to an eighth-place finish at Gulfstream on February 16.
Cool as Ice finished fourth at Gulfstream Park on February 15 for Ricky Griffith.
Rachel Halden sent out Nipigon to a fifth-place finish at Gulfstream Park on February 19.
Brian Lynch recorded a pair of runner-up finishes from seven starters between Gulfstream Park and Aqueduct last week, as Brooklyn Bobby and Meantime both ran second at Gulfstream on February 18. Lynch’s other Gulfstream starters last week included Divine Miss (5th, Feb. 15), Conquest Big E (5th, Feb. 17), Hit the Diamond (11th, Feb. 18), and Red King (7th, Feb. 19), while Cournoyer was sixth at Aqueduct on February 18.
Nerve Line finished second for Michael McDonald at Gulfstream Park on February 19.
Awesome Indeed was 10th at Tampa Bay Downs on February 16 for Julie Robillard.
John Simms sent out a pair of starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, including Asian Moonlady (5th, Feb. 15) and Philm Noir (4th, Feb. 16).
Lemon Zip finished eighth at Gulfstream Park on February 15 for Stuart Simon.
William Tharrenos had a pair of runner-up finishes at Gulfstream Park last week from Over Limit (Feb. 16) and Tiz Bobby (Feb. 18).