Thursday, December 9, 2010

Woodbine: 2010 Year In Review

Woodbine's thoroughbred season came to a close on Sunday with an animated call from track announcer Dan Loiselle who bellowed, "That's it, we're done, it's over...Rimal Al Sahara wins the final race of the meet."

Rimal Al Sahara wins the final race of the 2010 Woodbine meet

I can't believe it's over but it was certainly a memorable campaign. 2010 was a season highlighted by the Queen's visit in July for the running of the Queen's Plate, but a few other moments stand out for me. Click on the links to read my reports and see the photos of my favourite Woodbine moments of 2010:

Big Red Mike running his eyeballs out to win the Queen's Plate.

The handsome Big Red Mike

Court Vision's exceptional rally to win the Woodbine Mile.

Court Vision bloomed at Woodbine

Roan Inish wins the Woodbine Oaks with a glorious ride from David Moran

Roan Inish and Moment of Majesty battle it out in the Woodbine Oaks

How about the work of trainer Brian Lynch? He sends out mysterious Golden Moka to win the Prince of Wales Stakes off a layoff by way of Panama and then shocks the Breeders with 60-1 shot Miami Deco.

Brian Lynch and Richard Dos Ramos

A splendid victory by Joshua Tree in the Canadian International.

Joshua Tree a hit at Woodbine

Eurico Rosa da Silva capturing his first rider's title usurping the talented Patrick Husbands...but I'll link instead to a story of Eurico's boundless generosity.

Eurico is a winner on and off the track

End of an era - The closure of Windfields Farm

So long, farewell...

Two of my favourite horses retired over the course of the 2010 season. Ian Black's speedy Wollemi Pine (a track record holder for 1M40) and the multiple stakes winner Southdale took their last steps over the polytrack. Wollemi Pine, aka Toogie, was instantly recognizable in morning workouts and a fan favourite. I'll miss seeing him roll his tongue out over the gate of his stall and stomping his hoof impatiently - - his unique way of demanding a mint or three. Southdale, who I wrote about many times over the past two years, won the G3 Eclipse and the G3 Durham Cup and is very much in the running for a Sovereign Award.

The cheeky Wollemi Pine will be turning heads and demanding mints on the farm in 2011

In April, I wandered the Woodbine backstretch and caught up with two very important horses - - Big Red Mike and Essence Hit Man. The former would win the Queen's Plate and the latter won the Woodstock, Queenston and Achievement at Woodbine and also notched a memorable place finish to Discreetly Mine in the Amsterdam at Saratoga. The Hit Man's groom Errol promised me the horse was capable of big things during this visit and he wasn't wrong! Check out my post, Queen's Plate Profiler: Big Red Mike, Essence Hit Man and Joey's Best

Errol and Essence Hit Man

Although the fun is now over for 2010, our Woodbine-based trainers will continue to send out horses at tracks south of the border and I'll continue to note their progress on my results page - - Entries/Results of Woodbine-based trainers

Thank you to the many owners, trainers, jockeys and backstretch workers who posed for photos and answered countless questions over the course of the season. I'll miss the morning backstretch visits and jokes along the rail but I will look forward to meeting the emerging stars of 2011.

In the meantime, TripleDeadHeat.Ca will surge forward througout the offseason reporting on racing news and expect a few offseason features with Canadian content.
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The latest internet sensation is the multi-platinum video that triggered a series of fowl jokes to my Inbox from local Woodbine enthusiasts this past week. Metro News reports: All They Are Is Ducks In The Wind:

No ducks were harmed in making the video, Matthew Stevens, the Woodbine Entertainment Group cameraman who captured the moment, assured the Toronto Star.

“We were under a wind delay at Woodbine. It’s a little dangerous for the horses to race in wind like that,” Stevens said.

Braver than thoroughbreds, the duck family had tried twice before to get from the racetrack paddock to the walking ring.

They picked themselves up after getting blown across the concrete, the ducklings got back into formation behind their mother, and they all ducked into a sheltered spot. “We made sure none of the little ducklings would fall into the storm drain,” Stevens said. “They were fine.

“It’s a bit of a mystery” how the video ended up on YouTube, said Stevens, who lives in Milton.

He suspects it was inadvertently included with tape sent for Woodbine’s simulcast on the U.S. horse racing channel TVG. Derbydanx, the online name of a horse racing fan, told the Star he spotted it several months ago and posted it a month ago.

All They Are Is Ducks In The Wind

For my money, the best of the many, many cute animal videos on the web is the story of Christian The Lion:

In 1969 a young Australian, John Rendall and his friend Ace Bourke, bought a small lion cub from Harrods pet department, which was then legal. 'Christian' was kept in the basement of a furniture shop on the Kings Road in Chelsea, the heart of the swinging sixties. Loved by all, the affectionate cub ate in a local restaurant, played in a nearby graveyard, but was growing fast...

A chance encounter with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna led to a new life for Christian. He came to live in a huge enclosure and to sleep in a caravan at their Surrey home. Then in 1971 he was flown to Kenya, his ancestral home, and returned to the wild by lion-man George Adamson. Nine months later in 1972, John and Ace returned to Kora in Kenya. This clip is of their reunion at that time.

Christian The Lion - Reunited

* * * reports that Woodbine Increases its Handle Again in 2010:

For the second consecutive year, Woodbine Entertainment Group announced a sharp increase in betting handle on its live Thoroughbred racing season.

According to track figures, the 167-day meet, which concluded Dec. 5, saw an "all-sources" total of $393,507,233 wagered, a 8.9% overall rise from the $361,435,208 figure recorded from the 167 dates offered last year.

It comes after a 7.0% hike in handle seen in 2009 over 2008.

"We are pleased with the sustained gains in handle," said Sean Pinsonneault, WEG's chief operating officer, in a release. "To see a seven% rise in 2009 and an 8.9% jump this year against the softness in the betting marketplace is significant."

Similar to last year's gains, much of the $32 million-plus increase in betting came from U.S. sources.

"Customers have responded very well to the strong fundamentals of Woodbine's racing, guaranteed pools, and expanded distribution," Pinsonneault said. "This positive momentum has also resulted in record setting handles in our key stakes events."

The Queen's Plate, Woodbine's signature race, was graced with the presence of Queen Elizabeth II for its 151st running in 2010. The $6,815,673 handle number recorded for the card was a record. The Woodbine Mile ($5,619,808) and Pattison Canadian International (Can-I, $6,322,804) cards also shattered handle marks.

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The marathon that is the Valedictory Stakes highlighted the end of the Woodbine season as Mark Casse's Pool Play outlasted his opponents for the victory.

Pool Play can stay the distance

Casse Racing reports, Marathon distance of Valedictory plays to Pool Play’s strength:

Pool Play’s fondness for extended route distances should bode well for him Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack in the 1 3/4-mile Valedictory Stakes. The $150,000 event, which is the closing day feature of the 167-day meet, has brought together a field of nine that also includes Canadian 3-year-old champion Eye of the Leopard and the popular Helicopter.
Pool Play went winless in his first nine starts this year, which included a narrow loss to Hold Me Back in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes at 1 1/4 miles. In the 1 5/8-mile allowance prep for the Valedictory, he rallied from ninth to score by three lengths under Luis Contreras.

Trainer Mark Casse said Pool Play has the right demeanor for marathon distances.

“Pool Play is the type of horse that you can turn on and turn off,” Casse explained. “He’ll go when you ask him to. The problem with him in shorter races is he doesn’t have the top speed of horses like Stunning Stag. But the farther they go, the more he can turn it on and off. He can run all day long.”

Patrick Husbands will ride Pool Play after a one-race absence. He has won three races on Pool Play, including the 2009 Durham Cup.

“Patrick knows him better than anybody,” Casse said.

Pool Play wins the 2010 Valedictory Stakes

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Also featured on closing weekend at Woodbine was the Ontario Lassie Stakes which saw a field of nine talented fillies routing over the polytrack. While Lisvernane and Yankee Candy led the field early, it was Molinaro Social, who unseated rider Steve Bahen coming out of the first turn, that would make the pace down the backstretch rushing to the front of the pack between horses. The loose horse led the field into the stretch running wide and ducking in greenly as a surging Inglorious found room and romped home in front. The riderless Molinaro Social held on for second.

Of course, Molinaro Social will not actually get credit for the race but she was certainly a factor in the odd spectacle.

Horse-Canada.Com reports, Another Glorious Effort from Inglorious in Ontario Lassie:
Jockey Chantal Sutherland netted her meet-leading eighteenth stakes score, guiding 6-5 favourite Inglorious to her second added-money win in as many starts, in Saturday’s $151,600 Ontario Lassie Stakes at Woodbine.

Inglorious, a two-year-old daughter of Hennessy, trained by Josie Carroll, made her first two-turn test a memorable one, crossing the wire 5 ¾-lengths in front of a closing Baganara in a time of 1:46.28 for 1 1/16-miles, over the Polytrack. Sense of Pride was third. The bay came into the Ontario Lassie off a victory in her career bow, a 1 ¾-length triumph in the six-furlong Fanfreluche Stakes, on October 24.

Inglorious wins the 2010 Ontario Lassie

* * *

Woodbine Media reported on the meet leaders:

Mark Casse fell short in his chase of a 15-year-old record, but managed his fourth straight Woodbine training title as the track's eight-month live Thoroughbred season came to a close on Sunday.

Casse was three wins away from tying the mark of most wins in single season by a trainer at Woodbine (set by the late Frank Passero in 1995 with 89 wins), heading into the final card, but managed a sole tally to finish with 87 on the campaign.

Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva collected his first Woodbine riding championship with 190 scores, 18 ahead of nearest rival, Patrick Husbands (172). Chantal Sutherland was third with 136 wins, including a colony-leading 18 stakes victories. Husbands did end up winning the earnings title on the final day, finishing with $9,228,622 after capturing the day's feature, the Valedictory Stakes, with Pool Play.

Sam-Son Farm topped the Woodbine's owner standings with purse earnings of $2,563,412. Bear Stables Ltd. was second with $1,883,987 and had the most wins with 39. Melnyk Racing Stables, Inc. was third with $1,789,573.

It was Casse's fifth Woodbine training title overall. Casse, who took the purse earnings title with $4,920,111, also won the 2002 championship. Reade Baker was second this year with 66 wins, while Sid Attard was third with 46. Roger Attfield had the most stakes wins with 13.

Once again, the winner of this year's Grade 1, $2 million Pattison Canadian International, Joshua Tree ($11.20), led all horses at the meet with $1.2 million in earnings.

Impossible Time, Safety Zone, Wildcat Marie, Kirkland Lake, Certain Pride and Preakness Laugher each had five wins to lead all runners at the 167-day season.

da Silva guided Terra Racing Stables' Big Red Mike ($12) to a wire-to-wire victory in the Queen's Plate over Hotep and Roan Inish, who won the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser, returning $25.80.

In the other major stakes events, Court Vision ($16.60) won the Woodbine Mile, and Miami Deco won the Breeders' Stakes, third jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown Series, paying the biggest price ($132.10) in the race's Triple Crown history.


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In the aftermath of the closing of NYC OTB, the brilliant Jessica Chapel linked all the relevant developments in a post entitled, Day 1 Post-NYC OTB:

Crisis has a way of focusing the attention. And so it was that in a matter of minutes, during an emergency meeting of the New York State Racing and Wagering board held Wednesday in the wake of NYC OTB’s closure (audio), it became possible for New York horseplayers to sign up instantly for online wagering accounts instead of in person as previously required. The process was streamlined in an attempt to capture shut-out OTB players. “This is a crisis situation and we’re trying to react because people will find their way to a barber shop or the corner bar [to bet], and that helps no one, not the racing industry or the state,” board chairman John Sabini told the Associated Press. (The silver lining to this mess may be that things get a little easier for horseplayers, although it doesn’t sound like that will be so re: streaming video of races. Disappointing. And dumb.)

* * *

A uniquely Canadian exactor occurred in the Tropical Turf when Canadian-bred Twilight Meteor edged Woodbine's own Rahy's Attorney by a diminishing neck.

Aline leads Rahy's Attorney into the Woodbine paddock

ESPN reports, Twilight Meteor upsets Tropical Turf:

Twilight Meteor, who had started just once coming into the Grade 3 Tropical Turf since winning the Grade 3 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park 21 months earlier, sprinted right to the front and never relinquished the lead en route to a surprising neck victory over co-highweight Rahy's Attorney. Baletti rallied mildly along the hedge to finish another half-length farther back in third.

Twilight Meteor edged clear of El Kingdom in the run past the grandstand the first time and rated on the lead through honest fractions of 23.81 seconds, 47.98, and 1:11.69 for the opening six furlongs. Twilight Meteor turned back a mild challenge from Souper Spectacular leaving the backstretch, then had enough left despite drifting through the final furlong to withstand late surges from both Rahy's Attorney and Baletti.

Midnight Mischief, the tepid 7-2 favorite in a full field of 12 turf specialists, moved within striking distance into the stretch but lacked a closing surge and finished fifth. Never On Sunday, who shared top weight of 120 pounds with Rahy's Attorney, was never a factor and checked home 10th.

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Still need more? Check out my archived posts including Feature Stories and Photo Essays.

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