TORONTO, March 6, 2018 – Welcome to the 12th 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 John Ross. Ross saw most of his stable remain in Ontario for the winter, but he did send four horses down to Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Florida, including a trio of now two-year-olds, and Coronation Futurity winner Aheadbyacentury.
Aheadbyacentury will look to become the first Coronation Futurity winner to win the Queen’s Plate since Norcliffe accomplished the feat by winning the Coronation Futurity in 1975 and the Queen’s Plate in 1976. So far, Ross is pleased with how Aheadbyacentury is progressing in Florida.
“He’s been doing very good,” he said. “He’s been getting lots of foundation. He ran late in the year so it doesn’t take too much to get him going. He’s just grown and matured, and he’s really had a good time down at Payson Park. He’s really liking it down there.”
Ross said Aheadbyacentury got the month of December off in Florida before picking up his training at the beginning of January. While Ross isn’t in Florida on a day-to-day basis, Aheadbyacentury is in the experienced hands of multiple graded stakes winning trainer John Hennig at Payson Park.
“I didn’t bother setting up for full horses down there,” Ross said. “I’ve been down there just overseeing things. He’s had lots of miles under him and he’ll be ready to go.”
Even though Aheadbyacentury has been based in Florida for the winter, Ross said his intention was always to point the son of Midnight Lute towards the $125,000 Queenston Stakes over seven furlongs at Woodbine on April 22 as his first prep for the Queen’s Plate.
“I didn’t want to run him down in the States at all because he ran late in the year,” he said. “After the Coronation Futurity, I knew he had enough there. The time off did him good. With him training back now, he’s a happy horse. I’ve been really happy with his progress.”
Back home, the rest of the Ross stable has moved back in at Woodbine with the backstretch opening last week. Ross said the Ontario horses spent the winter at Hunter Hill Farm in Milton, and began walking and jogging early in the new year.
“Once the new year started, we had them all on the Equiciser,” he said. “That gives them a little exercise and a little bottom under them before they get here. A lot of them were running late in the year anyways, so that was a little stepping stone for them to come here with.”
Ross said he is hoping for a strong four-year-old campaign from Prince of Wales Stakes winner Cool Catomine, who was freshened after a sixth-place finish in an allowance optional claiming race at Woodbine on November 1. Ross added that Cool Catomine was gelded over the winter with the hope that he’ll be able to run back to his strong performance in the Prince of Wales Stakes.
“He had a real nice winter, and we gave him time off,” Ross said. “He just had enough near the end. We took him and gelded him. I think he was getting a little too bull headed… Gelding them can make a difference and we’re hoping we’ll see a different horse this year. He sure looks happy and healthy now.”
Six Woodbine trainers recorded wins last week, including Willie Armata, who saw Donnas Sweet Heart romp home to a 6 1/2-length victory at Penn National on March 3. Armata had three starters in all last week, as he also sent out No Soup for You to a third-place finish at Laurel Park on March 3 and Poly Anna to a seventh-place finish at Penn National on March 3.
Nick Caruso won with his only starter of the week, as Spun From Gold won the second race at Charles Town on March 3.
Gail Cox also won with her only starter of the week, as Twice Around won at Gulfstream Park on March 1.
Mark Casse was back in the winner’s circle last week, as Salty won at Gulfstream Park on March 1. In all, Casse recorded a win, a runner-up finish and a third-place finish from 13 starters last week.
Norm McKnight recorded a win from seven starters at Oaklawn Park last week, as Smart Spree won the eighth race on March 4.
John Simms saddled Gold Shark to a victory at Tampa Bay Downs on March 4 and also sent out Sweet Deal to a fourth-place finish on March 2.
Three Woodbine jockeys also made trips to the winner’s circle last week, including Jermaine Bridgmohan, who recorded four wins at Sam Houston. Bridgmohan’s winners included Another Bond Girl (Feb. 27), Zabette (Feb. 28), Pogo Spot (Mar. 2) and Maxi’s Taxi (Mar. 3), but Bridgmohan also recorded another five in-the-money finishes from 15 total mounts during the week.
Kirk Johnson recorded a win from six starts at Mahoning Valley last week, as Mt Haynesfield was a 10 1/4-length winner on February 27. Johnson also picked up a third-place finish with Slingin’ Sammy on March 2.
Ismael Mosqueira recorded a win aboard Unfolded Magic at Turf Paradise on February 28. Mosqueira also added four runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes from 17 total mounts last week.
Rafael Hernandez spent Saturday afternoon at historic Garrison Savannah in Barbados where he recorded a pair of runner-up finishes from three starts. Hernandez finished second on Kittens Cat in the Sandy Lane Spa Spring Stakes and Trophy, and also ran second on Shining Copper in the feature race, the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup. On Sunday, it was back to Aqueduct, as Hernandez rode Curiousncuriouser to a third-place finish in the opener.
Luis Contreras recorded a pair of second-place finishes aboard Magic Eraser (Mar. 2) and Moolamiss (Mar. 2) from 12 mounts at Oaklawn Park last week.
Michelle Rainford finished second aboard Triple Chocolate at Penn National on March 3.
Sheena Ryan recorded a runner-up finish from four starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, as Awesome At Last finished second on March 3.
Gary Boulanger finished fourth aboard Ambitious Moon at Tampa Bay Downs on March 4.
It was also a successful week for a pair of former Queen’s Plate winners over the weekend, as 2016 Queen’s Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges and 2017 Queen’s Plate winner Holy Helena were both in action on March 3. Holy Helena doubled up to start her 2018 campaign by taking the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream Park, while in Barbados, Sir Dudley Digges ran down stablemate Shining Copper to win the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup.
SIR DUDLEY DIGGES wins the G1 Barbados Gold Cup and SHINING COPPER takes second. pic.twitter.com/Z58bDenvod
— Ramsey Farm (@Ramsey_Farm) March 4, 2018
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Tino Attard, who sent out Entwistle to a runner-up finish at Gulfstream Park on March 1.
Roger Attfield had a pair of stakes starters on the March 3 card at Gulfstream Park, as Kylla Instinct finished seventh in the Sand Springs Stakes and Shakhimat finished eighth in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Stakes.
Peppered finished ninth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 3 for Reade Baker.
Classy Scarlett finished sixth at Laurel Park on March 4 for Michael Blake.
2016 Canadian male sprint champion Noholdingback Bear made his 2018 debut in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes on March 3, finishing 10th for Michael De Paulo.
Mike Doyle sent out a pair of runners during the March 3 card at Gulfstream Park, including Grizzel, who finished second in the Sand Spring Stakes, and Honig, who finished 11th in a maiden race later on the card.
Scott Fairlie recorded a runner-up finish from two starters at Penn National last week, as Triple Chocolate ran second on March 3. Fairlie also sent out Another Girl to a fifth-place finish on March 1.
Eldorado’s Soul finished ninth at Turfway Park on March 1 for Preston Ferris.
Rachel Halden sent out Ambitious Moon to a fourth-place finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 4.
Shane Learn hit the board with his only runner of the week, as Lake Marion finished third at Tampa Bay Downs on March 2.
Paula Loescher sent out three runners at Tampa Bay Downs last week, including Prison Padre (fourth, Feb. 28), Comedy Gold (eighth, Mar. 3), and World of Prospects (fifth, Mar. 4).
Friendly Giant finished sixth at Gulfstream Park on February 28 for John Mattine.
Stuart Simon sent out one runner last week, as Kenora finished sixth at Gulfstream Park on February 28.
William Tharrenos recorded a runner-up and a third-place finish from three starters at Gulfstream Park last week, as Paddy Point finished second on March 1 and Ellas My Love finished third on March 2. Tharrenos also sent out Tiger Paw, who finished fourth on March 2.