TORONTO, February 28 – Welcome to the ninth 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 trainer Mike Keogh, who has a 21-horse string at his winter base at the Aiken Training Track in Aiken, South Carolina. Among the 21 under Keogh’s care this winter are a number of talented older horses, including Sweet Grass Creek and Go Bro, and a trio of promising 3-year olds, including Woodbridge, Megagray, and Will She.
[For beautiful images of Aiken Training Track in South Carolina, visit the website of photographer Barry Bornstein.]
Woodbridge and Megagray were highly regarded in the recent release of the Queen’s Plate Winterbook. Woodbridge was named the 10-1 fifth choice, while Megagray was among the second tier of horses, just outside of the top 10, at odds of 25-1. Keogh, who will look to win his third Queen’s Plate this year after previously winning the race with Woodcarver in 1999 and Wando in 2003, said both horses are progressing nicely in Aiken.
“Everything’s going good,” he said. “Megagray and Woodbridge are both doing really well. They’ve two-minute licked quite a lot and then we just started breezing the other day.”
Megagray… (Michael Burns Photo)
Woodbridge and Megagray have plenty of racing options available to them once the Woodbine meet begins in April. Both horses are maiden winners and are eligible for their first-level allowance condition, but they could also step up to face stakes company. Keogh said it was possible he might point Woodbridge to the seven-furlong Queenston Stakes, while Megagray will likely point towards races around two-turns.
“Usually the Queenston is one that I look at,” he said. “I think that would suit Woodbridge more than Megagray. I think Megagray is a definite two-turn horse. Woodbridge has a lot more speed than him.”
Keogh could also see Will She prove to be a Woodbine Oaks filly. Will She won first time out last year, and recorded her first stakes win in the Fanfreluche Stakes over six furlongs by 8 3/4 lengths. Keogh had high praise for full-sister to Sweet Grass Creek, but admitted he had concerns about Will She’s ability to stretch out to nine furlongs.
“She’s a real nice filly,” he said. “I’m not sure if she’ll get the trip in the Oaks but we left her eligible just in case. I think she’s a sprinter, but hopefully, she’ll prove me wrong.”
Sweet Grass Creek, meanwhile, appeared to be on the verge of a break through against stakes company in 2016 at Woodbine, placing in three straight sprint stakes before having his season cut short due to a hoof ailment following his third-place finish in the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes on September 11.
Sweet Grass Creek… (Michael Burns Photo)
“He got white line disease last year so we had to stop on him,” Keogh said. “We had to send him for a little surgery to have all the white line cut out so I lost quite a bit of time with him.”
Keogh said Sweet Grass Creek is back in training and could be ready for a race like the Jacques Cartier Stakes early in the Woodbine meet.
“He worked on Friday and worked very well,” he said. “He’s the type of horse where it doesn’t take much to get him ready. He might be able to make it.”
With the Aiken Training Track located at least an eight-hour van ride away from the nearest racetrack, Keogh doesn’t get many opportunities to race over the winter. However, the upcoming Aiken Trials, scheduled for March 18, could give some racing experience to several horses in Keogh’s stable ahead of opening day at Woodbine on April 15. Most of the Aiken Trial races are run over 4 1/2-furlongs, with races for 2-year olds run over 2 furlongs.
“We have a couple of possibilities,” Keogh said. “I have two maidens that I didn’t get to run last year that I’m thinking of. A horse called City Boy, by City Zip, and a filly called Fuhr Love, by Langfuhr out of a Not For Love mare. I might run Woodbridge in the winner’s race called the Aiken Cup.”
Six Woodbine trainers picked up wins in racing action last week, including Tino Attard who sent out Hidden Turn to victory at Gulfstream Park on February 23.
Ashlee Brnjas recorded a win at Tampa Bay Downs with Biigon on February 26, and saw all five of her starters hit the board last week. Augusto B ran second on February 26, while Krz Princess (Feb. 22), Johnny Bear (Feb. 22), and Tizwar (Feb. 25) all finished third in their respective races.
Mark Casse picked up a winner from 13 starters last week, when Mississippi Delta won at Gulfstream Park on February 24. Casse had another three runners hit the board, including Valadorna, who finished third in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds on February 25. Ida’s Warrior also ran third at Fair Grounds on February 24, while Royal Asscher was second at Fair Grounds on February 27.
Valadorna… (Courtesy of @AdophsonRacing)
Steven Chircop was back in the winner’s circle with a win from six starters at Penn National last week, as Phil’s Cocktail won his race on February 22. Chircop’s other starters of the week included Ekati Sonet (7th, Feb. 22), Bellacomeilsole (8th, Feb. 23), Cosmic Charlie (6th, Feb. 24), Rockhaven (6th, Feb. 24), and Euro Princess (5th, Feb. 24).
John Mattine picked up a win from two starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Tonedaddy was victorious on February 22. Mattine also sent out Opening Remark to a seventh-place finish on February 26.
Stuart Simon recorded his first win of the winter with Niigon’s Edge at Gulfstream Park on February 26.
Niigon’s Edge… (Gulfstream Park Photo)
Jockey Luis Contreras recorded a win in his final week at Santa Anita, as he rode Shezroxiie to victory on February 24. Contreras has now moved his tack to Oaklawn Park and recorded a runner-up finish from two starts on February 26.
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting once again with Sid Attard, who recorded two starts at Gulfstream Park last week. Attard saddled Gilded Warrior to a runner-up finish on February 26 and Southern Gem to a fourth-place finish on February 24.
Bite the Bit finished third at Tampa Bay Downs on February 26 for Roger Attfield.
Reade Baker send out Vegas Strip to a runner-up finish at Gulfstream Park on February 25.
Julie Belhumeur recorded one in-the-money finish from two starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week when Mystic Delight was third on February 24. Belhumeur’s other starter of the week, Gabriels Joy, was fifth on February 24.
Julia Carey sent out three starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including Conscious Decision (5th, Feb. 22), Sight Reading (4th, Feb. 23), and Alilaction (4th, Feb. 26).
Grizzel finished fourth in the Melody of Colors Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 25 for Mike Doyle.
Nicholas Gonzalez hit the board twice from three starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Uncle B was second in the Texas Glitter Stakes on February 25 and Moonshine Martini was third on February 26. Gonzalez’s other starter of the week, Meadow Rose, was fourth on February 24.
Brian Lynch recorded a pair of in-the-money finishes from four starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Leopard Cat was second on February 26 and Hockey School was third on February 25. Lynch also sent out 2014 Prince of Wales Stakes winner Coltimus Prime to a fifth-place finish on February 22 and Awesome Slate to a sixth-place finish on February 26.
Pat Parente had two starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including Runaway Pepper (8th, Feb. 25) and Dynamite Kid (5th, Feb. 25).
Threes Are Wild finished sixth for Julie Robillard at Tampa Bay Downs on February 26.
John Simms sent out a pair of starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, recording a third-place finish with Asian Moonlady on February 24 and a fifth-place finish with Leave Er B on February 22.
William Tharrenos recorded a third-place finish from four starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Misty Spirit ran third on February 24. Tharrenos’ other three starters of the week all finished fifth, including Bold Summit and Over Limit on February 22 and Wickstead on February 24.
Top Decile finished seventh at Gulfstream Park on February 24 for Danny Vella.