Friday, May 6, 2011

Oh Canada Stands Tall In The Queenston...and...My Kingdom For A Derby Winner

With two wins and a second in three lifetime starts, it’s no wonder trainer Bob Tiller is willing to stand up and sing the praises of his Queen’s Plate contender, Oh Canada. The Proud Citizen gelding, out of Oh Livia D, won at first asking last November and completed his two-year-old campaign with a smart second place finish to a top Brereton E. Jones runner in Fast Yankee.

Oh Canada - A horse to stand up and applaud

“I’ve had lot of them over the years but I think he’s going to be nice,” said Tiller outside his barn on a windy Woodbine morning.

Tiller, who has won nearly every big race there is to win at Woodbine, except the Queen’s Plate, has been to the big dance a number of times - - most notably with a trio of top horses in Domasca Dan (3rd behind With Approval in 1989), Forever Grand (3rd behind T J’s Lucky Moon in 2002) and Win City. The latter horse had a spectacular campaign in 2001 winning the Queenston, Marine and Plate Trial before closing wide down the lane in the Queen’s Plate to finish second to the Sam-Son Farms filly Dancethruthedawn. Win City quickly recovered to win the Prince of Wales Stakes to give Tiller his first classic victory.

Oh Canada surges to victory in the Woodstock

Some experts believe Oh Canada just might be the horse to give Tiller his first Plate victory. Following that second place finish to complete his two-year-old season last December, the Frank Di Giulio Jr homebred’s took a winter break locally.

“He wintered at Paul Buttigieg’s farm,” said Tiller. “He had two starts last year and went to Buttigieg’s and had a month off. We started jogging him indoors in early January and he came home a fit horse.”

If Oh Canada was fit upon arriving on the Woodbine backstretch, a string of sharp works would only have made the horse that much fitter in preparing for his 2011 debut in the Woodstock Stakes. Breezes on March 24th (4F in 50.80), April 1st (5F in 1:01.00) and April 9th (5F in 1:00.60) had the gelding ready to gallop. Unimpressed, the punters thought the six furlong sprint would be too short for Oh Canada and they sent him to post at odds of 9-1. Undaunted, Oh Canada never looked at the tote board as he raced from off the pace before making a wide run down the lane under jockey Luis Contreras to win in a time of 1:10.10. The result did not surprise Tiller.

Three-time Sovereign Award winning trainer Bob Tiller

“Surprised? I was not surprised he ran well,” said Tiller. “We’ve done this schedule before where you get a sprint into them and then try and stretch them out.”

Oh Canada was still going strong after the wire

With a moment’s pause, Tiller added, “I can’t say I went in (expecting to win)…well, I thought he’d run well. Let me put it that way.”

It was certainly an impressive score against a field of talented winter-raced runners such as Black N Beauty and the Sovereign Award winning Madman Diaries.

“It just proves you don’t need to take a horse to Florida to be successful in the early part of the year at Woodbine,” said Tiller. “I was very pleased with his race. It was only his first start and I was pleased with how he finished it. It’s a long way from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter, believe me. I’ve been in this game long enough to know that. It doesn’t make him a mile and a quarter horse but it’s pleasing.”

Oh Canada rallies to win the Woodstock

Tiller knows there is a slim margin of error when it comes to preparing for the classic races.

“You don’t have any spare time. You don’t want to miss a beat,” said Tiller. “You have a game plan with a horse that ran in December like this horse did…but you just don’t want to miss a week or ten days then you’re in trouble. It’s a tight schedule no doubt but everything worked out with him. We were just trying to get a run into him (in the Woodstock) and hopefully he would run down the lane and finish good and he did that.”

With the first hurdle on the path to the Queen’s Plate cleared, Oh Canada will make his next start in Saturday’s Queenston Stakes. The five-horse field will see Oh Canada pitted against Black N Beauty (2nd in the Woodstock), Say No More, Sardonicus, and the impressive Reade Baker trainee Bear’s Chill.

“We’ll see how he runs in the Queenston going seven eighths. There will be a couple nice horses in that race,” said Tiller. “Reade’s got a nice one he’ll enter (Bear’s Chill) and he was awful impressive going seven eighths.”

Should Oh Canada impress once more on Saturday the gelding is sure to be touted as a Queen’s Plate favourite, but, for now, Tiller is content to enjoy the process.

“We’ll see how he comes out of that and plan the next one,” grins Tiller. “One race at a time.”

Queenston Stakes - (7 Furlongs, Poly)
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 1 Bear's Chill (ON) 3/C L E Ramsammy 117 R Baker 5/2
2 2 Sardonicus (ON) 3/G L C Fraser 115 M E Casse 10/1
3 3 Say No More (ON) 3/G L R A Dos Ramos 117 M Keogh 4/1
4 4 Oh Canada (ON) 3/G L L Contreras 119 R P Tiller 9/5
5 5 Black N Beauty (ON) 3/C L T Pizarro 117 D L Romans 2/1

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Ontario-bred Joyful Victory had a tough trip in Friday's Kentucky Oaks finishing fourth in a race won by Plum Pretty. Although the marquee event is meant to feature the fillies it was another lady, jockey Rosie Napravnik, who stole the headlines with a classy ride on second place finisher St John's River.

Plum Pretty wins the Kentucky Oaks

(Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos)

Plum Pretty started well under jockey Martin Garcia and sat just off the early leader, Summer Soiree. Joyful Victory, sent to post as the 2-1 favourite, had no trouble with her inside post and rated from mid-pack before encountering some traffic trouble later on. However, it was the awkward start of St. John’s River, out of the 12-hole with Rosie Napravnik aboard, that caught the eye of Churchill Downs crowd. After breaking outward and into the gate, Napravnik sent her horse on an angled run straight to the rail in a ground-saving effort.

Check out the start as St John's River angles to the rail in the Oaks

Summer Soiree would lead the field to the far turn, where Plum Pretty took over and just held off the fast-closing St. John’s River, who charged in vain, with great extension, after the leader.

The Twitterverse lit up with comments on the great ride by Napravnik and the race will be a talking point for Saturday's Kentucky Derby where the up-and-coming jock will steer Pants On Fire. A win, in its 137th running, would make Napravnik the first female jock to win the Kentucky Derby. Joe Drape profiled the emerging talent in this New York Times piece:

“I got a live mount, and I’m an accomplished rider,” the 23-year-old Napravnik said. “I know the racetrack is still a man’s world. Every day I hear a trainer or owner say ‘I don’t want to ride a girl or you’re not strong enough.’ But I also can tell you I’m riding horses now for a lot of those guys I heard it from.”

Napravnik is too talented to have to hide the fact that she is a woman. She has captured riding titles in Maryland, Delaware and most recently the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, where her 110 victories were more than 30 more than the jockey who finished second. Napravnik said that better than the titles was the respect she earned from her colleagues.

“The guys down there tested me when I first got there,” she said. “They tried to intimidate me a little. But I kept my mouth shut and pushed back. You have to prove you’re tough. I think the toughness is what a lot of the young female riders lack. Eventually, they found a respect for me, and I appreciate that, because a lot of times when you do well, you don’t have friends.”

Rosie Napravnik gallops Pants on Fire

(Alex Evers/EquiSport Photos)

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For those readers that missed it, Thursday's post previewed my first pass review of the Kentucky Derby: Thinking Out Loud: 2011 Kentucky Derby A,B,C Selections. (The post contains video of most of the major prep races leading up the Derby.)

My (Animal) Kingdom for a Derby winner!

(Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos)

In an effort to weed out horses I thought could win from the many potential faders and no-hopers, I grouped the 19-horse field as follows:

A (5) - Consider for top position:
Dialed In, Master of Hounds, Animal Kingdom, Soldat, Nehro,

B (4) - Consider for exactor and triactor
ArchX3, Stay Thirsty, Mucho Macho Man, Midnight Interlude,

C (5)- Consider for bottom of triactor and superfecta
Brilliant Speed, Comma To The Top, Pants On Fire, Santiva, Watch Me Go

X (5) - Not on my ticket
Twice The Appeal, Decisive Moment, Derby Kitten, Twinspired, Shackleford,

I will enjoy a late night and early morning of handicapping as I try to sort out my Pick 3 and Pick 4 plays and you can find those plays tomorrow on Twitter by following me at TripleDeadHeat.

However, I suppose I should be brave and post my Top 3 selections for the Derby itself. So, here goes:

1. Animal Kingdom - What a story it would be if John Velazquez, who had the mount on now scratched Uncle Mo, could win the Kentucky Derby taking over for the injured Robby Albarado. Animal Kingdom, though lightly raced, has fared well in large fields and in winning the Vinery Spiral demonstrated an ability to win tough. In that race he started slow, edged up along the rail and then moved to the outside before running away from the field. He seems to have a few gears and that could come in handy in this congested event. If he wins, it will be his first win on dirt.

2. Dialed In - He's going to be the favourite and he will be attempting to weave his way through a lot of traffic in the stretch run to catch the leaders. He has the big stride that allows him to cover a lot of ground with minimal effort but can the Florida Derby winner get there in time?

3. Santiva - I'm tempted to put Pants On Fire or Stay Thirsty in this spot...but I'm going to reach for a bomber in the Giant's Causeway colt Santiva. He is one for one over the Churchill Downs dirt with a win in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club. His effort in the G2 Risen Star is better than it looks and I'll give him a do-over for his lacklustre polytrack effort.

4 - Take your pick from Stay Thirsty, Pants on Fire and Soldat.

Wild Card - My dad would kick me if I didn't put a small wager on Master of Hounds who arrived for the Derby from Ireland to race for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Master of Hounds might be the horse best suited to this classic distance and I'll put $2 across in honour of my Dad who passed earlier this year.

Good luck to everybody with their Kentucky Derby picks!

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As always, keep track of the latest goings on in the world of horse racing by clicking into TripleDeadHeat's Woodbine News page or join in on the conversation by following TripleDeadHeat on Twitter.

1 comment:

MikeAdamson said...

Nice call on the KD winner and I hope you also made off with the tri!