TORONTO, February 27, 2018 – Welcome to the 11th edition of the weekly Woodbine Snowbirds Report, now in its seventh 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 22 horses with him this winter at Aiken Training Center in Aiken, South Carolina. Keogh said the weather in January was unseasonably cold in Aiken, so much so that the training track froze and remained closed for an entire week.
“We were getting a real cold spell in January with a frozen racetrack and such,” he said. “We were stuck in the barns for a week just jogging around the shedrow. You never like to lose time, especially if you’re trying to get ready for the (Queen’s) Plate or something like that. It’s one of those ‘it is what it is.’ You can’t do anything about Mother Nature.”
Among those 22 horses with Keogh in South Carolina this winter are three Queen’s Plate nominees, including Wandofuhr, who was assigned 25-1 odds in the Queen’s Plate Winterbook last week, along with Wedgewood and Viewfinder, who were both assigned odds of 30-1.
Wandofuhr capped off his 2017 campaign with a victory in a seven-furlong sprint on Tapeta. Starting from the outside post in a field of 12, Wandofuhr broke sharply and never looked back, taking the field gate-to-wire to win by 4 1/2-lengths.
“That was very nice from a tough post position too,” Keogh said. “I was very pleased with him. He’s doing well.”
Wandofuhr is a three-quarter sibling to both Sweet Grass Creek and Will She, who have excelled at sprint distances in their respective careers. Sweet Grass Creek did run in the Queen’s Plate in 2015, but Keogh said 1 1/4-miles may be outside of Wandofuhr’s range.
“My biggest concern with him is if he can get the trip,” he said.
Keogh’s second Queen’s Plate nominee, Wedgewood, capped his 2017 campaign off with a sixth-place finish in the Coronation Futurity after setting the pace. Wedgewood was making his second start on Tapeta in the Coronation Futurity, but Keogh believes he might be better suited to the turf.
“He’s training well enough,” he said. “He might just be a turf horse. He’s out of a More Than Ready mare. He’s probably better on the turf.”
Finally, Viewfinder is a horse Keogh believes will really enjoy a stretch out around two turns after finishing off of the board in two sprints as a two-year-old last season.
“I really believe he wants to go two turns,” he said. “He didn’t get started until late and I lost some time with him last year with a shin. I had to back off him. He trains like he’d love two turns. Whether it would be turf or not, I’m not sure. I think he would be the one out of the three that would get the (Queen’s Plate) trip.”
Keogh also said graded stakes winner Go Bro, and Megagray, who finished fifth in last year’s Queen’s Plate, are both back in training after missing extended time with injuries last year.
“They both ran the same day, ‘Plate’ day, and they both didn’t come out of their races,” he said. “(Megagray) chipped his ankle and we had to do surgery after that race. I’m looking forward to him this year going long and probably on the turf I would imagine. (Go Bro) didn’t come out of the King Eddie 100 per cent so we had to stop on him. He’s doing well.”
While Aiken Training Center is located far away from any winter racing at tracks like Tampa Bay Downs or Gulfstream Park, Keogh may be looking to give a few of his horses some racing experience in the Aiken Trials on March 18. Keogh said it was possible he may run a horse in the trials to get some racing experience ahead of the Woodbine season.
“I haven’t quite made my mind up,” he said. “I might run Viewfinder in the maiden race there. It’s only 4 1/2-furlongs. It’s not a bad sort of tightener. It gives them a bit of racing experience and it’s good for the actual training center. That day is where they make most of their money so we do it to support the training center as well.”
Eight Woodbine trainers made trips to the winner’s circle last week, led by Mark Casse. Casse has now recorded 21 wins over the past three weeks, picking up another six wins from 15 starters last week. Four of those six wins came at Gulfstream Park from Son of Oahu (Feb. 21), New Atlas (Feb. 22), The Dow (Feb. 22) and Got Stormy (Feb. 25), while Alpine Sky won at Aqueduct on February 23 and Curlin’s Honor won at the Fair Grounds on February 25.
Scott Fairlie recorded a pair of wins at Penn National with Awesome Five on February 22 and My Pal Katherine on February 23. Fairlie had four starters in all last week, as he also sent out Get Saucy (ninth, Feb. 23) and Priddy Fair (second, Feb. 23).
Shane Learn won with his only starter of the week, as Viva Forever won the sixth race at Tampa Bay Downs on February 21.
Tonedaddy was a winner for John Mattine at Gulfstream Park on February 22. Mattine also sent out Signature Twirl to a ninth-place finish at Gulfstream on February 24.
Norm McKnight recorded a pair of wins at Oaklawn Park with Niigon’s Glory (Feb. 22) and Factor Me In (Feb. 23). McKnight had five total starters last week, as he also saddled String Bikini (fifth, Feb. 25), Okbyecya (second, Feb. 25), and Inge (fourth, Feb. 24) in the Gazebo Stakes.
Nick Mileni Jr. also recorded a pair of wins at Penn National with Devilish Style (Feb. 22) and Box Office Star (Feb. 23).
Queen’s Plate nominee Rose’s Vision won at Gulfstream Park on February 24 for Stuart Simon. Simon also sent out Houdini Affair to a third-place finish at Gulfstream on February 19.
Michael Wright recorded a win and a runner-up finish from Spunsational and Unbridled Piper, respectively, at Tampa Bay Downs on February 22.
Six Woodbine jockeys also made trips to the winner’s circle last week, including Rafael Hernandez, who won a stakes race at Aqueduct for the second week in a row after Aunt Babe won the Franklin Square Stakes on February 24. In all, Hernandez recorded a win, three runner-up finishes, and three third-place finishes from 15 starters last week.
Luis Contreras recorded three wins at Oaklawn Park with Niigon’s Glory (Feb. 22), Fort Fortitude (Feb. 23) and King Abner (Feb. 24). Along with the three wins, Contreras also recorded three runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes from 14 starters last week.
Michelle Rainford recorded two wins and a runner-up finish from three starters at Penn National last week. Rainford rode Awesome Five to victory on February 22 and My Pal Katherine to a win on February 23, while Priddy Fair finished second on February 23.
Jermaine Bridgmohan also recorded a pair of winners at Sam Houston last week aboard Air Assault (Feb. 21) and Hourly Sam (Feb. 24). Bridgmohan also recorded a runner-up finish on Gospel Carlo on February 21 from nine total starts last week.
Kirk Johnson recorded a winner from five starters at Mahoning Valley, as he rode Peace and Serenity to a win on February 20.
Ismael Mosqueira recorded a win, two runner-up finishes, and three third-place finishes from 16 starts at Turf Paradise last week. Mosqueira’s winner came aboard Lucky B. N. on February 21.
Sheena Ryan recorded an in-the-money finish from six starters last week as Golden Pineapple finished third on February 22.
Alan Garcia had three mounts at Oaklawn Park last week, with his best finish coming aboard Naples Mist (fourth, Feb. 25).
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Willie Armata, who sent out a pair of runners last week, including Friendship Ring (11th, Feb. 23) at Penn National and Hombre Natural (sixth, Feb. 24) at Charles Town.
Kevin Attard sent out five starters last week at Gulfstream Park, including Trini Pleasure (fifth, Feb. 21), Bee Quiet (sixth, Feb. 23), Bold Animaux (seventh, Feb. 24), Sweet Inspiration (ninth, Feb. 25) and Leopard Cat (fifth, Feb. 25).
Sid Attard recorded a pair of fourth-place finishes at Gulfstream Park last week from Bracket Creep (Feb. 19) and Storm Ruler (Feb. 23).
Roger Attfield hit the board with both of his runners on February 24 at Gulfstream Park last week, recording a runner-up finish from Y’all and a third-place finish from Tower of Texas in his dirt debut in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes.
Tower of Texas after his big 3rd place finish in the Hal’s Hope S. @GulfstreamPark Thanks @Tyler_Gaff for a great ride & congrats connections & #teamAttfield what a cool horse! pic.twitter.com/QoOZKR8E1q
— Allyson Walker (@AllysonKWalker) February 24, 2018
Josie Carroll sent out four starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including Alternative Truth (ninth, Feb. 24), Zephan (10th, Feb. 24), She’s Got Fire (ninth, Feb. 25) and Grey Seal (fourth, Feb. 25).
Nick Caruso recorded a runner-up finish from three starters at Penn National last week, as Spring Chicken ran second on February 22. Caruso’s other starters last week included Bess’ Girl (fifth, Feb. 23) and Blue Marauder (fourth, Feb. 24).
Steven Chircop sent out four starters at Penn National last week, including He Started It (sixth, Feb. 20), Get the Job Done (seventh, Feb. 22), We Will Shine (fourth, Feb. 22) and Jazz Session (fourth, Feb. 23).
Catherine Day Phillips sent out a pair of runners last week, including Tombelaine, who finished fourth in the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita on February 24, and Leviathan, who finished eighth at Gulfstream Park on February 25.
Beyond Smart finished eighth at Gulfstream Park on February 24 for Michael De Paulo.
Nicholas Gonzalez recorded a third-place finish from four starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Hey Howie finished third on February 24. Gonzalez’s other starters of the week included Switchblade (ninth, Feb. 22), Written (fourth, Feb. 24), and We Take Checks (fourth, Feb. 25).
Paula Loescher sent out three runners at Tampa Bay Downs last week, and recorded a third place finish from Golden Pineapple on February 22. Loescher also sent out World of Prospects (eighth, Feb. 21) and Gottum (ninth, Feb. 23) last week.
Silky Mitts finished third at Charles Town on February 21 for Donald MacRae.
Michael McDonald saddled one starter at Gulfstream Park last week, as Adios Mia finished 12th on February 25.
Emperor John recorded a runner-up finish at Gulfstream Park on February 22 for Steve Owens.
William Tharrenos recorded a third-place finish from five starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Forty’s Sweetheart finished third on February 25. Tharrenos also sent out Trajecly Hipp (sixth, Feb. 24), Remembering Mickey (fourth, Feb. 24), Third Republic (seventh, Feb. 25), and Specialcnsydration (fifth, Feb. 25) last week.
Monetary System finished seventh at Gulfstream Park on February 24 for Daniel Vella.