TORONTO, March 21 – Welcome to the 13th 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 Roger Attfield, who’s had a quiet winter thus far with one win and six in-the-money finishes from 23 starts in Florida. But with the Keeneland meet set to begin on April 7, and the Woodbine meet kicking off eight days later, you can expect the barn to get very busy very quickly.
“That’s what we train towards,” Attfield said. “The purses in Florida aren’t worth beating your horses up for, so we train towards Keeneland and the spring meet up there.”
Among those from the Attfield barn expected to run at Keeneland is Queen’s Plate Winterbook favourite, Tiz a Slam. Tiz a Slam made his seasonal debut on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs, where he finished fifth and was just 1 3/4-lengths behind the winner in the one mile Columbia Stakes on turf.
“It was a good race,” Attfield said. “He was about 85 percent ready for that race. He got a little bit tired at the end, and he had a wide trip also.”
Attfield said Tiz a Slam’s next start could come in the Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington Stakes over 1 1/16-miles on dirt at Keeneland on April 15.
“The Krembils would really like to see him run on the dirt before we come back up to Woodbine so we get a better idea of where we might go with him,” he said.
Another Chiefswood Stable homebred with big aspirations at Woodbine this summer is 3-year old filly Ghostly Presence. The Princess Elizabeth Stakes winner is a leading contender on the road to the Woodbine Oaks, and will likely make her first start of the year in the Grade 3, $125,000 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland on turf on April 13, despite having allowance conditions available.
“She has her two other than,” Attfield said. “There is not a two other than filly race at Keeneland, actually. She may run in the stake there on the grass.”
Are You Kidding Me and Allyson Walker (Photo by Elsa Lorieul)
Queen’s Plate nominee Escondera is also preparing for a run at Keeneland. Escondera broke his maiden at Woodbine on October 22 and concluded his 2-year old campaign with a third-place finish behind King and His Court and State of Honor in the Coronation Futurity on November 13. Attfield said Escondera would likely make his 3-year old debut in an allowance race.
“There’s a race for him there early in the meet if I remember correctly,” he said. “He’ll probably go from there up to Woodbine.”
A pair of Attfield’s older horses are on track to make stakes engagements at Keeneland as well, including Are You Kidding Me and Danish Dynaformer. Are You Kidding Me, a Sovereign Award finalist, will get another chance to run on dirt in the Grade 3, $200,000 Ben Ali Stakes over 1 1/8-miles on April 15. The Ben Ali would be Are You Kidding Me’s first start since he finished eighth in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on November 25.
“He’s been ready for a while, actually,” Attfield said. “He’s doing really, really well. I want to see him run on the dirt again. He’s always had some excuses whenever he’s run on the dirt. His last race, he had that quarter crack going in and it opened up on him. It’s taken me all winter to get him totally healed up.”
Danish Dynaformer, meanwhile, has made a pair of starts on the turf at Gulfstream Park over the winter. Attfield said he was particularly impressed with Danish Dynaformer’s most recent effort in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream on March 4, where he finished 1 1/4-lengths behind Wake Forest.
“He ran a huge race in his last race,” he said. “It was kind of sad to see it because he had to run so hard and come so wide. He was the best horse in the race in my opinion, and didn’t get beat very far but finished sixth. He ran very, very hard and ran a very, very fast last quarter.”
Attfield said he expected Danish Dynaformer would relish getting back on the turf at Keeneland when he runs in the Grade 2, $250,000 Elkhorn Stakes over 1 1/2-miles on April 22. Danish Dynaformer was a winner on the Keeneland turf as a 3-year old back in 2014.
“He’s in excellent shape,” Attfield said. “After being at Gulfstream, any time they hit a proper turf course they get quite excited about it, so it will be good.”
Six different Woodbine trainers picked up wins last week, including Sid Attard, who sent out Gold Shark to a victory at Gulfstream Park on March 24. Attard also recorded starts from Unikat (3rd, Mar. 24) and Danger Bay (6th, Mar. 26) at Gulfstream last week.
Gold Shark with #TeamSid! (Photo courtesy of Gulfstream Park)
Starship Jubilee recorded a win for Tino Attard at Gulfstream Park on March 22. Attard also sent out Been Waiting to a seventh-place finish at Gulfstream on the same day.
Ashlee Brnjas recorded another win at Tampa Bay Downs last week with Johnny Bear on March 24. Brnjas also saddled Tizwar to a third-place finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 22.
Mark Casse recorded a win from 10 starts last week, as Axtell won at Gulfstream Park on March 24. Casse also sent out a pair of Queen’s Plate nominees at Turfway Park on Saturday, as Sailing Home finished sixth in the Rushway Stakes, while King and His Court was 10th in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes.
Brian Lynch got a win from his lone starter of the week, as Leopard Cat crossed the line first at Gulfstream Park on March 24.
John Mattine sent out Budding to victory at Gulfstream Park on March 26. Mattine also saddled Opening Remark last week, who finished seventh at Gulfstream on March 25.
Budding noses out a win… (Courtesy of Gulfstream Park)
Luis Contreras had a big week at Oaklawn Park, recording six wins and 11 in-the-money finishes from 24 starts over four racing days last week.
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Julie Belhumeur who sent out Expialidocious to a fifth-place finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 25.
Michael De Paulo had a trio of starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including First Goal (5th, Mar. 23), Queen’s Plate nominee Arcen (6th, Mar. 26) and Sovereign Award finalist Passion for Action (6th, Mar. 26).
Nicholas Gonzalez recorded a pair of in-the-money finishes from three starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Meadow Rose was second on March 23 and Wilshire Star was third on March 22. Gonzalez also sent out Conquest Dynasty to a fifth-place finish on March 24.
Ricky Griffith recorded a second-place finish from Cool as Ice in the second race at Gulfstream Park on March 25, while Past the Stars finished seventh in that event.
Prilla Le Blanc finished fifth at Gulfstream Park on March 23 for Michael McDonald.
Malcolm Pierce sent out three runners at Tampa Bay Downs last week, including Noble Thought (2nd, Mar. 24), Queen’s Plate nominee Clutch Catch (4th, Mar. 26), and Run to the Beat (7th, Mar. 26).
Julie Robillard had one in-the-money finish from three starters last week at Tampa Bay Downs, as I’m in a Hurry finished second on March 26. Robillard also sent out Threes Are Wild (9th, Mar. 22) and Articulate (7th, Mar. 25) last week.
Sine Metu finish seventh at Tampa Bay Downs on March 25 for Debra Rombis.
John Simms sent out Hiram’s Mistress to a runner-up finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 22.
Bold Summit finished sixth at Gulfstream Park on March 24 and was the lone starter for William Tharrenos last week.
Michael Wright saddled Notaloneinhishead to a runner-up finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 26.