Each week, Woodbine Entertainment Group will offer a weekly Top 10 list looking back and looking forward in the world of thoroughbred and harness racing at Woodbine and Mohawk. This week, Tim gives his thoughts on the most prominent US Triple Crown figures to race at Woodbine over the decades.
Follow Tim on Twitter @timlawson4.
The 2016 Triple Crown season is well underway, as over 300 champion hopefuls were put through the first round of nominations just two weeks ago. The road to the second weekend in May is not an easy one, but its potential rewards far outweigh the strenuous journey. Triple Crown fame is more than just financial appeal; it’s a coveted prize that turns great racehorses into the immortals. Whether it’s a score in the first jewel at Churchill, a spoiler at Pimlico and Belmont, or the improbable three-race sweep, the Triple Crown is where legends are born.
Woodbine has hosted a diverse group of Triple Crown icons over the years. From 31-length winners to 50-1 long shots, the Etobicoke-based track has displayed some of the finest three-year-old champions in racing history. Here’s a look at Woodbine’s Top 10 Triple Crown Visitors:
10. Creme Fraiche (1985 Belmont Stakes)
Creme Fraiche was one of racing’s richest earners by the end of his colourful six-year career. The son of Rich Cream retired with a record of 17-12-13 in his 64 lifetime starts, banking over $4,000,000. Trained by Hall of Famer Woody Stephens, Creme Fraiche took the 1985 Belmont Stakes by a half-length over Kentucky Derby runner-up and stable mate, Stephen’s Odyssey. A multiple graded stakes winner, it was not until 1988 when the millionaire gelding travelled north to Woodbine for a bid in the Gr. 3 Dominion Day Stakes. He finished third, to Bill Mott’s Palace March.
9. Colonial Affair (1993 Belmont Stakes)
A Virginia-bred, Colonial Affair made his way into racing immortality with a 2 ¼-length victory in the 1993 Belmont Stakes. A 13-1 long shot, the son of Pleasant Colony bested two Woodbine connections that day, as David Bell’s Kissin Kris and Mike Doyle’s Wild Gale finished second and third respectively. Trained by Hall of Famer Flint Schulhofer, the bay colt travelled to Woodbine later in his three-year-old campaign for a bid in the Gr. 2 Molson Export Million Stakes (now the Gr. 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile). As the public’s third choice at 3-1, he finished a disappointing sixth to Roger Attfield’s Peteski. Colonial Affair would go on to win three graded stakes as a four-year-old, including the Gr. 1 Whitney Handicap and the Gr. 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
8. Louis Quatorze (1996 Preakness Stakes)
After finishing a distant 23 ¼ lengths back in the Kentucky Derby, Nick Zito’s Louis Quatorze made a resilient comeback at Pimlico just two weeks later. Scoring by 3 ¼ lengths, the son of Sovereign Dancer wired a field of 12 in the Preakness, which included the likes of Editor’s Note and the great Skip Away. Winning the Gr. 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga later that summer, Louis Quatorze would hit the Woodbine grounds twice before wrapping up his three-year-old campaign. He was a disappointing seventh in the Gr. 1 Woodbine Million Stakes (now the Gr. 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile), but would prove his resilience once again with a promising effort Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic just one month later. Finishing second in North America’s richest race, he was part of a dramatic upset that dethroned the legendary Cigar. It is only fitting that Louis Quatorze would score in his very next start, winning the Gr. 3 Creme Fraiche Handicap at Gulfstream Park.
7. A.P. Indy (1992 Belmont Stakes)
The heir to the throne of Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy’s stardom began in the sales ring. He was a $2,900,000 yearling purchase, and did nothing short of exceeding expectations. Entering the 1992 Belmont Stakes with six consecutive wins under his belt, the Neil Drysdale trainee took the third jewel of the Triple Crown by ¾ lengths over My Memoirs. He would return three months later, this time north of the border in the Gr. 2 Molson Export Million Stakes. Seeking seven straight scores, the heavy favourite was fifth best to Prince of Wales winner Benburb. Since his maiden victory as a two-year-old, A.P. Indy’s bid at Woodbine Racetrack was the only out of the money finish of his career.
6. Funny Cide (2003 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes)
A bargain yearling purchase of $22,000, Funny Cide’s captivating ability was immediately displayed as a juvenile. Undefeated in his rookie campaign, the son of Distorted Humor mildly upset a field of 17 in the 2003 edition of the Run for the Roses. A 1 ¾-length score over the 5/2 Empire Maker would send him to Pimlico, where he would demolish nine foes by 9 ¾ lengths in the Preakness. Funny Cide was not crowned in the Belmont, but would go on to race well into his seven-year-old season. In July of 2006, the chestnut was sent to Woodbine for the Gr. 3 Dominion Day. The odds-on favourite would capture one of his eleven career victories that day, taking the 1 ¼-mile event by 1 ½ lengths.
5. Touch Gold (1997 Belmont Stakes)
Owned in partnership by Stronach Stables and Stonerside Farm, Touch Gold is notoriously remembered for denying duel classic winner, Silver Charm, a Triple Crown title in the 1997 Belmont Stakes. As a two-year-old, the son of Deputy Minister campaigned at Woodbine Racetrack for veteran trainer, Daniel Vella. The stakes placed youngster capped off his juvenile year in the Swynford Stakes, finishing second behind stable mate, Holzmeister. He was then sent south of the border to David Hofmans, where he would win two of his three starts before capturing the Belmont by ¾ lengths. Retiring for stud in 2008, Touch Gold won six of his fifteen lifetime starts and banked over $1,675,000.
4. Mine That Bird (2009 Kentucky Derby)
Mine That Bird defied all odds with his come from behind victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The 50-1 long shot was out of sight until veteran rider Calvin Borel made his iconic move on the rail, driving the son of Birdstone to an improbable 6 ¾-length score. Before his glamorous win under the twin spires and his gamely place finish behind Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, Mine That Bird was an established Canadian champion. Originally conditioned by Woodbine-based trainer, Dave Cotey, the bay gelding won four of his six juvenile bids, which included the Silver Deputy Stakes, Swynford Stakes, and the Gr. 3 Grey Stakes. A $9,500 yearling purchase, the Sovereign Award-winner was sold privately for $400,000 before kicking off his Triple Crown journey south of the border. With lifetime earnings in excess of $2,200,000, the retired champion was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2015.
3. Sunny’s Halo (1983 Kentucky Derby)
It is an understatement to say that Sunny’s Halo is one of Canadian Racing’s most memorable stars. Trained by David Cross Jr., the Canuck-bred captured four of Woodbine’s premier juvenile races before heading south for his three-year-old campaign. En route to Churchill, the chestnut son of Halo took Oaklawn’s Rebel Handicap and Gr. 1 Arkansas in preparation for the Triple Crown. On May 7, Sunny’s Halo was two lengths the best in the 1 ¼-mile classic. Banking $426,000 for the win, he followed up with a sixth place finish in the Preakness. The Hall of Famer sits alongside Northern Dancer, as the only two Canadian-bred horses to win the Kentucky Derby. Sunny’s Halo capped his career with more than $1,200,000 in earnings over nine wins.
2. Secretariat (1973 Triple Crown)
Secretariat is more than a generational athlete; he is simply an all-time great. The story of Big Red is widely known and will forever be cherished. From a multiple track record setter to an historical 31-length victor at Belmont Park, words do very little justice for the Secretariat’s impact on horse racing. The Triple Crown champion captivated the entire world in 1973. He was as much of a household name as Clint Eastwood or perhaps Goldie Hawn. At the conclusion of his three-year-old and final campaign, Canadian Racing fans were truly privileged to witness the curtain call of Big Red’s astonishing career. On a cold and damp afternoon in late October, tens of thousands congregated to Woodbine Racetrack to bid Secretariat farewell. It was the Gr. 2 Canadian International Championship Stakes (now the Gr. 1 Pattison Canadian International), and the towering son of Bold Ruler displayed his greatness one last time. His brilliance on the dirt was easily translated to the grass, as he captured the 1 5/8-mile event with pure ease, winning by a record-breaking margin of 6 ½ lengths.
1. Northern Dancer (1964 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes)
It has been over 25 years since the passing of Northern Dancer, and his legacy is still vibrant as ever. The legendary son of Nearctic, owned and bred by E.P. Taylor, was Canada’s horse. As a juvenile, he captured seven of his nine starts, which included wins in the Summer Stakes, Coronation Futurity, Carleton Stakes, and the Remsen Stakes. Entering his sophomore campaign as a favourable candidate for the Kentucky Derby, Northern Dancer was dominating the three-year-old circuit south of the border. With wins in the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby, and Bluegrass Stakes, the Canadian icon was well on his way to Triple Crown contention. In the Run for the Roses, Northern Dancer’s brilliance was gleaming. Paying $8.80 to win, his historic victory was accomplished in a record breaking 2:00.00. Following up with a win in the Preakness, Northern Dancer finished third in the Belmont Stakes before returning home to Woodbine. Fittingly, his last ever win came in the 1964 Queen’s Plate. The Eclipse and Sovereign Award-winner has long been a substantial influence on breeding throughout the world. Since 1985, more than half of the Kentucky Derby winners carry Northern Dancer’s bloodline.