Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sovereign Award Review: Who will be Canada's Horse of the Year?

For the first time in my career as a turf writer, I've been asked to vote on the Sovereign Awards which honour the best of Canadian horse racing.

Is Inglorious our Horse of the Year?

The winners will be announced on April 5, the evening before Woodbine’s Opening Day of thoroughbred racing at a ceremony held at Woodbine Racetrack. With my selections due by Friday, I've decided to air out my thoughts on the contenders (in alphabetical order), add in some video and pictures and reminisce on what was a fun year of racing.

Or is Never Retreat the Horse of the Year?

The Horse of the Year vote will come down to a battle between a pair of talented females - - the three-year-old filly Inglorious and the six-year-old mare Never Retreat. (both now a year older as of Jan. 1.)

My vote will go to Never Retreat who won five graded stakes races in 2011, including the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland. Although Inglorious took a pair of important Canadian classics, the Woodbine Oaks and Queen's Plate, it is important to note that both of those races are restricted to three-year-old Canadian-breds.

Never Retreat, with five wins and nearly $900,000 in earnings, took on open company and defeated a number of talented Grade 1 performers over the course of the year including the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare turf champ Perfect Shirl; Miss Keller, who won the Grade 1 E.P Taylor Stakes; and the well-regarded Irish-bred Together who won the Grade 1 QE II Challenge Cup.

Inglorious absolutely deserves to win the Sovereign Award as the Champion Three-Year-Old Female, but her restricted wins, although impressively won, do not match the company kept by the seasoned Never Retreat. Inglorious raced four times in graded company last year with her best result a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks.

Is Maritimer Canada's top two-year-old?

The Two-Year-Olds: Although he is not likely to raise a trophy at the Sovereign Awards in April, it only seems fair to raise a glass to trainer Ralph Biamonte who enjoyed a terrific 2011 campaign with top juvenile performers such as Banner Bill, Jenna's Wabbit, Menlo Castle, Run in Aruba and the filly Rose and Shine. Biamonte's burgeoning bunch combined to capture eight added-money events, with the filly, Rose and Shine, leading the way with $352,320 in earnings.

Jenna's Wabbit is one of many Biamonte juveniles who hopped to the winners circle in 2011

Despite this success, Biamonte's talented quintet will be hard pressed to overtake Maritimer and Excaper in the male category, while Hard Not to Like and Tu Endie Wei are certain to capture many of the votes in the female category.

2 Year Old Males

From a list of 16 horses provided by the Jockey Club of Canada, only six of the contenders performed in graded stakes races - - and of those six, only three hit the board: Prospective (1st in the G3 Grey), Excaper (2nd in the G1 BC Juvenile Turf, 2nd in the G3 Summer)and Indian Evening (3rd in the G2 Saratoga Special).

Banner Bill: The Illinois-bred Rockport Harbor gelding was perfect in three Woodbine starts, including scores in the Victoria and Colin before being overwhelmed, when fourth, defeated 13 and a half lengths by Union Rags in the G2 Saratoga Special over a sloppy track.

Excaper: A Kentucky-bred son of Exchange Rate-Ada Ruckus, Excaper proved to be a brave turf runner for trainer Ian Black. After breaking his maiden on the Poly, Excaper stepped up with a stubborn performance in the G3 Summer when second to the more experienced Finale. Excaper weakened over the Poly in his next start, the G3 Grey, when fourth in his first two-turn test but redeemed himself with a brilliant effort in the G1 BC Juvenile Turf leading the field into the the stretch and holding on to finish second, two and quarter lengths behind Wrote. In his final start of 2011, Excaper was again brave to the wire when third, a neck behind place finisher Finale, in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream, a race won by highly regarded Summer Front.

Excaper fights all the way to the wire in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf

Indian Evening: Vinery Stables own this Kentucky-bred son of the recently deceased Indian Charlie. The bay colt romped first time out over a pair of heavy hitters including Buongiorno Johnny (won the Vandal next out) and Menlo Castle (captured the Simcoe in September), and was ambitiously entered in the G2 Saratoga Special for an encore, finishing third, defeated 10 and a quarter lengths by Union Rags. Indian Evening returned to Woodbine in September and promptly won the Swynford by three lengths.

Indian Evening and Ruth Schmidt share a smile at Saratoga

Maritimer: Norseman Racing Stable's Ontario-bred Maritimer was a dominant force at Woodbine in November. The Stormy Atlantic-Highland Mood colt won at first asking in July and narrowly missed next out when second, by a head, in the Vandal to Buongiorno Johnny. In his next two starts, the Sid Attard trainee would try his luck on the turf finishing second to filly Hard Not to Like in the prep for the Summer Stakes, and then faded to fourth in the Summer, with fellow Sovereign contender Excaper in front of him.

Maritimer wins the Display Stakes

Following a freshening, Maritimer returned to the Poly in November and was a driving winner of the Coronation Futurity. The colt was in such good form he returned three weeks later to romp the open-company Display Stakes by five and a half lengths, earning a 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.

Prospective: Mark Casse was so impressed with this Kentucky-bred son of Malibu Moon-Spirited Away, that he sent him to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in November. Although the colt failed to handle the track, finishing last of 13, it takes nothing away from Prospective's strong two-length victory in the G3 Grey in October.

Category leaders by earnings:
1. Maritimer, $361,140
2. Excaper, $283,540
3. Menlo Castle, $270,811

2 Year Old Fillies

What a talented group of fillies Woodbine patrons were treated to in 2011. Rose and Shine, Blue Heart and Dixie Strike proved to be top routing prospects, while Biofuel's half-sister Tu Endie Wei was sparkling in sprints, and may yet stretch out. To top it all off, Gail Cox's grey charmer Hard Not to Like was special on the turf, beating the boys twice and giving her connections a thrill with an early move in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Turf.

Dixie Strike: As a half-sister to 2011 Woodbine Oaks and Queen's Plate champion Inglorious, Dixie Strike more than lived up to expectations. She opened her campaign with a second place finish in the Muskoka, less than a length behind the more experienced Rose and Shine. She broke her maiden next out and in the Princess Elizabeth was once again chasing Rose and Shine, losing by a diminishing length. Dixie Strike completed her season on a high note, turning the tables on her nemesis Rose and Shine, winning the Ontario Lassie by five and a half lengths. The Ontario-bred filly is already breezing at Palm Meadows in preparation for what could be a very exciting three-year-old season.

Hard Not to Like: What's not to like? The Ontario-bred Hard Spun grey was gutsy at first asking winning a six furlong sprint over the E.P Taylor Turf Course. The Gail Cox trainee was forced into taking on the boys in the Summer Stakes prep when the Natalma prep failed to fill, but Hard Not to Like wasn't bothered scooting away to a length and a quarter score over Maritimer.

Gail Cox and the striking Hard Not to Like

Hard Not to Like would finish a disappointing fifth in the G3 Natalma after a troubled trip. However, she quickly proved her class by coming back to beat the boys for a second time in the Cup and Saucer Stakes. She completed her campaign with a strong fifth-place finish in the G2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, defeated just three lengths by Eclipse Award finalist Stephanie's Kitten.

Northern Passion: How good are these Ontario-bred fillies? This chestnut daughter of First Samurai-A Touch of Glory won first time out and was a rallying second next out in the Ontario Debutante, when sprinting six and a half furlongs on the Poly against the talented Tu Endie Wei.

Northern Passion was unstoppable when switched to the turf in the G3 Natalma, rallying from twelfth, and last, to overtake the entire field with an impressive turn of foot leaving eventual Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, Stephanie's Kitten, in her wake. The Mark Casse trainee would try her luck on the dirt in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies but failed to menace finishing seventh. She is currently back in training at Ocala Training Centre.

Rose and Shine: Ralph Biamonte put seven solid starts into the Mr. Sekiguchi-Yellowenglishrose Ontario-bred, and the filly responded with three wins, a second and a third, while banking $352,320 for owner James Sabiston.

The consistent, and versatile, filly captured the Muskoka at six and a half furlongs and the Princess Elizabeth at a mile and a sixteenth, while keeping Dixie Strike in her rearview mirror.

Tu Endie Wei: This half-sister to 2010 Horse of the Year Biofuel lived up to big expectations breaking her maiden at first asking with a visually impressive sweeping move, covering five furlongs in :56.93 - - good for a 91 Beyer Speed Figure. The feisty filly captured the Ontario Debutante next out, but was a disappointing seventh in the G1 Alcibiades at Keeneland, her first attempt at two turns, in October. The bay daughter of Johar-Ms. Cornstalk returned to Woodbine in November with a flourish capturing the seven furlong Glorious Song by four and three quarter lengths.

Tu Endie Wei has an appetite for success

Category leaders by earnings:

1. Rose and Shine, $352,320
2. Hard Not to Like, $278,900
3. Tu Endie Wei, $271,000

3 Year Old Fillies

There can be no doubt about the leader of this category, right? By capturing the classic double of the Oaks and Queen's Plate, Donver Stables Inglorious soars above her competition. With $1,113,000 in earnings, she is well clear of the other contenders including Marketing Mix ($528,305) Bear It's time ($326,650) and Anne's Beauty ($268,722).

Or, is there more than meets the eye?

Although Inglorious got the better of Marketing Mix on the Woodbine Poly, the Thomas Proctor filly was a force once moved to the turf. Marketing Mix ended her 2011 campaign with four turf tilts, winning three (including a G2 and a G3), while placing in a G1 at Keeneland.

Anne's Beauty: The versatile Paul Attard trainee won stakes on the Poly (Duchess, 2nd in G3 Selene) and the grass (G3 Ontario Colleen)and even put in a brave effort to finish second to Inglorious in the La Lorgnette.

She's a 'Beauty'!

Bear It's Time: This Ontario-bred Philanthropist filly competed in all three legs of the Canadian Triple Tiara series finishing sixth in the Oaks, won the Bison City and a game fourth in the Wonder Where on the turf. The hard trying miss also won the Lady Angela and Classy N Smart in a gritty campaign.

Inglorious: Given the spectacular start to her three-year-old season, it's a shame that Inglorious couldn't have ended things on a high-note. The Josie Carroll trainee was excellent in February and March at Fair Grounds finishing second in the G3 Rachel Alexandra and fourth in the G2 Fair Ground Oaks.

Following a freshening, Inglorious returned to action in style winning the La Lorgnette at Woodbine with a bullying move between runners at the top of the lane. She was a driving winner of the Oaks next out and returned three weeks later with a thrilling sweeping move, one of the goosebumps moments of the year, to beat the boys in the Queen's Plate. She earned a category best 99 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort.

Inglorious wins the Queen's Plate

She was freshened once more and shipped to Saratoga in August to try the G1 Alabama but she couldn't handle the surface, finishing a distant sixth. High hopes for her Woodbine return in the G3 Selene in September were dashed when she finished third behind the good fillies Smart Sting and Anne's Beauty. But let's not take her for granted, she was a force between February and June and has the bankroll to show for it. She'll win the category and might even take Horse of the Year honours.

Marketing Mix: If this Ontario-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro-Instant Thought had won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup, this category might be up in the air. The talented filly was on the board in three of four starts over synthetic surfaces, but didn't truly blossom until switched to the turf for the Wonder Where - - where she delivered a runaway four and three quarter length win.

Next out she captured the G3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park, and was then second to Aidan O'Brien's Together in the G1 QEII Cup. She ended her campaign on a high note with a driving victory in the G2 Mrs Revere at Churchill Downs. Four turf starts provided three wins, a second, and more than $400,000 in earnings.

Marketing Mix promoted her talents on the turf

Smart Sting: This Stronach Stables Kentucky-bred, a daughter of Smart Strike-Perfect Sting, is a curious filly. She's certainly a trier, never worse than three lengths from the winner with a record of 2-1-2 in seven starts. In her final four races, all graded events, she finished fourth in the G3 Virginia Oaks on the turf; second in the G3 Ontario Colleen on the grass; defeated Inglorious in the G3 Selene on the Poly; and finished up a rallying fourth, a length and three quarters behind Marketing Mix, on the lawn in the G2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill.

Earnings by category:

1. Inglorious, $1,113,000
2. Marketing Mix,$528,305
3. Bear It's Time, $326,650

3 Year Old Males

What a strange year for three-year-old males in Canada. Just when you thought you'd figured out the leader, something changed. In the spring, Bear's Chill was sprinting to stakes scores at Woodbine with experts pondering how far he could go. In the summer, Check Your Soul turned heads with a ridiculously strong Plate Trial. Moonshine Mullin provided a few thrills in late summer with two Saratoga trips resulting in a second place finish in the G2 Jim Dandy. However, by season's end, there was no doubt that Pender Harbour owned this category. The Mike De Paulo trainee, hampered by a late start to training in his Plate preparation, captured two-thirds of the Canadian Triple Crown and finished the season strong.

Check Your Soul peaked early

Check Your Soul: Charles E. Fipke's homebred, a son of Perfect Soul-Unchecked, seemed destined for Queen's Plate glory following a dominating performance in the Plate Trial. He arrived in the Plate Trial off a maiden score on the turf at Keeneland and an easy win in the Wando.

When Patrick Husbands asked him for run in the Plate Trial, he slingshotted past the field as if they were stopped. Unfortunately, the colt did not enjoy his Triple Crown experience. Check Your Soul is back in training at Payson Park. Let's hope we see more from him in 2012.

Check Your Soul sling shots past the field in the Plate Trial

Moonshine Mullin: Although his lone win, a narrow nose score over Alpha Bettor in the Victoria Park, was exciting, he'll be remembered for his excellent effort in the G2 Jim Dandy when second to Stay Thirsty. Following his Saratoga adventures, including a sixth-place finish in the G1 Travers, Moonshine Mullin was third in the Ontario Derby, defeated less than a length by Derby Kitten.

Pender Harbour: I'm sure trainer Mike De Paulo will always wonder if his Philanthropist gelding, who had to stay in Ontario and recover from offeason surgery following his two-year-old campaign, might have been closer, perhaps even a winner, in the Queen's Plate if he could have got his star pupil to the track a little sooner.

Regardless, it was a remarkable training job by DePaulo to prepare Pender Harbour for the mile and a quarter Canadian classic off only two starts. With jockey Chantal Sutherland in the irons, Pender Harbour broke poorly but recovered well to chase gamely to the wire in third behind Inglorious and Hippolytus.

Pender Harbour proved his class at Fort Erie, taking the Prince of Wales by a nose over Bowman's Causeway and completed his Triple Crown run with another nose victory, this time over Celtic Conviction, in the Breeders Stakes over a mile and a half of soft turf at Woodbine.

Pender Harbour with trainer Mike DePaulo

Although Pender Harbour did not enjoy his trip to the Pennsylvania Derby, finishing 8th, he returned to Woodbine and captured the Bunty Lawless by four and a quarter lengths and completed the campaign with a second place finish, taking on open company, in the G2 Autumn won by five-year-old New York-bred Straight Story.

Earnings by category:
1. Pender Harbour, $840,400
2. Hippolytus, $371,160
3. Freedoms Traveller, $234,400 (Canadian Derby winner)

Older Female (Main Track)

I think it's pretty safe to single Embur's Song in the category of Older Female (Main Track). With four wins, three of them in G3 races, and earnings of $438,750, she towers over this group. Only Ariana D, with one win in nine starts, has cracked $200,000 in earnings. Dashing Daisy, who won six of her eight races at Hastings, but lost to Orchid's Silver in the G3 Ballerina, earned $135,000. In my eyes, Stars to Shine, who defeated Ariana D and eventual Breeders' Cup winner Perfect Shirl in the Belle Mahone, is the biggest threat to Embur's Song. The Mark Frostad trainee performed consistently in three graded events, never more than four lengths from the winner.

Ariana D: When Pennsylvania-bred Ariana D, a daughter of Rock Slide-Derby Tie, closed to finish second in the six and a half furlong Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes, we didn't yet know that the winner, Musical Romance, would go on to win the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. In hindsight, it's quite an impressive race as she overcame a rocky trip to miss be a head as the public's choice.

Ariana D was nearly Breeders' Cup bound

She romped in the seven furlong Awowal Stakes next out at Woodbine leaving Fantastic Cousin and Atlantic Hurricane in her wake. At that point, the rumours of a pending trip to the Breeders' Cup circulated. Instead of heading to Churchill, Ariana D stayed hom and finished third in the Ontario Fashion and fifth in the G3 Bessarabian. In her two route races, Ariana D finished second to Embur's Song in the G3 Ontario Matron and was runner-up to Stars to Shine in the Belle Mahone.

Embur's Song: The Todd Pletcher trainee is oh-so-talented. She can win in triple-digit speed figures at six and a half furlongs, like she did in the G3 Hendrie, but she also earned a 90 Beyer number when routing to win the G3 Ontario Matron.

The Ontario-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song-Embur Sunshine boasts a third G3 win, having captured the Doubledogdare at Keeneland, and was a nose winner of the one-mile Windward Stakes at Presque Isle. Her 2011 earnings, $438,750, are best of this bunch.

Stars to Shine: Only five races on her 2011 resume, but she won two and completed the tri in another to earn $148,380. What the Kentucky-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat-Gaily Lady lacked in quantity (of races), she more than made up for in quality.

Stars to Shine broke her maiden on the Woodbine turf in June and immediately stepped up in class, finishing fifth, defeated less than four lengths, in the G2 Dance Smartly with top turfers Never Retreat and Bay to Bay in front of her. Stars to Shine won the Belle Mahone next out on the Poly and then returned to the turf in the G2 Canadian, this time finishing third just a length and a half behind likely Horse of the Year Never Retreat and the eventual Breeders' Cup winner Perfect Shirl.

Earnings by category:

1. Embur's Song, $438,750
2. Ariana D, $271,500
3. Stars to Shine, $148,380

Older Male

My colleague John Siscos tweeted last week: "Just finished casting my Sovereign Award ballot. The toughest category? Older Male - Main Track. Yikes. #sovereignawards"

I have to agree with John. The category is deep but lacks a true standout. There are four G3 winners: City Wolf (Durham Cup), Don Cavallo (Dominion Day),James Street (Seagram Cup) and Stunning Stag (Vigil.) However, none of these horses managed to win another stake all year. Another horse of interest is the hard-knocking Medidocihospisurg who was claimed by trainer Steven Chircop for $15K in April and wound up winning three more races including the Elgin Stakes. And what to make of St Liams Halo, who won three races on the trot at Hastings, two of them stakes, missed a fourth win by a nose and ended his year with a fourth place finish in the Night Mover on the Hollywood Park turf.

Don Cavallo: The Don was on a roll at Woodbine, narrowly missing by half a length in the G3 Eclipse to Fifty Proof in May. The Kentucky-bred son of El Prado-Transcedental was dominant next out in the G3 Dominion Day crushing James Street and Stately Victor by three lengths. However, a step up in class to the G1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar proved too much as Don Cavallo finished seventh, well back of Acclamation. On his return to Woodbine, he finished a tired fifth in te G3 Durham Cup won by City Wolf over James Street.

James Street: Following three middling starts at Gulfstream to start the season, James Street only missed the board once in six Woodbine starts. The son of El Prado-Alleynedale, a Eugene Melnyk homebred, was an allowance winner in April in his first local start and in July finished secnd to Don Cavallo in the G3 Dominion Day. He moved barns, from Mark Casse to Josie Carroll, for the G3 Seagram Cup paying instant dividends as he gutted out a head victory over Stunning Stag. Following a second place finish in the G3 Durham Cup to City Wolf, he finished a flat fifth in the G2 Autumn in his lone off-the-board Woodbine placing.

Stunning Stag keeps on winning...

Stunning Stag: The now eight-year-old (as of Jan 1) gelding still has class. He was a handy winner in the G3 Vigil in May blowing by Essence Hit Man to win by three lengths. A game effort in the G3 Eclipse, when third behind Fifty Proof and Don Cavallo, was followed by another quality performance in the G3 Seagram Cup when second, defeated just a head, by James Street. The lightly raced veteran was a bang up third in the Presque Isle Downs Mile, a race won by eventual G2 Fayette and G1 Clark winner Wise Dan. The oldtimer completed his five-race campaign by completing the triactor in the G2 Autumn behind Straight Story and Pender Harbour.

Earnings by category:

1. James Street, $236,755
2. Stunning Stag, $206,800
3. City Wolf, $197,965

Turf Female

Notably absent from this category is the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl as she failed to make the requisite number of Canadian starts to quality for a Sovereign Award. Regardless, she would have been in tough to defeat Never Retreat in this category. The Team Block filly enjoyed a breakthrough campaign winning five of 11 starts including a G1 and a trio of G3 races. Roger Attfield's G1 E.P Taylor winner Miss Keller and Brian Lynch's G2 Nassau champ Bay to Bay round out a strong category.

Bay to Bay: This Florida-bred Sligo Bay filly won just once in 2011, the G2 Nassau, but was second in the G2 Dance Smartly and third in the G1 Diana. Ever consistent, she showed confidence in the one-turn mile at Woodbine when she got the better of Never Retreat in the Nassau, but also had the versatility to travel two-turns in the nine furlong Diana at Saratoga won by Zagora.

Miss Keller: What took so long Miss Keller? The Montjeu-Ingozi mare was off the board in her first five starts, four of them in G2 company, but saved her best for last ralling from tenth to win the mile and a quarter G1 E.P Taylor at Woodbine. I was hoping for one more race out of the bay mare, but instead she shipped to England for the Tattersalls auction and fetched $1,017,188 from Paul Fudge’s Australian operation Waratah Thoroughbreds. She'll be missed at Woodbine.

Yeahhhhhh!! E.P Taylor champ Miss Keller prepares for battle

Never Retreat: The likely Horse of the Year. She travelled to Woodbine three times, winning twice, in the G2 Dance Smartly and the G2 Canadian, and was a game second to Bay to Bay in her other local effort in the Nassau. In her U.S races, Never Retreat was a force taking the G1 First Lady and G2 Jenny Wiley, both at Keeneland. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike-Lisieux compiled a record of 5-2-2 from nine starts and tops this group with earnings of $889,778. Her top Beyer number of 101, earned in the First Lady, is also best of this group.

Never Retreat wins the G1 First Lady

Earnings by category:

1. Never Retreat, $889,778
2. Miss Keller, $625,800
3. Marketing Mix, $528,305

Turf Male

In a perfect world, Rahy's Attorney, retired due to injury after a second-place run in the G1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, would be awarded a special Sovereign Award, as he did not make the three Canadian starts required to win a Sovereign this year. 'The Champ' won the G3 Pan American at Gulfstream in March and seemed destined for a big year before taking a bad step in the gallop out at The Spa. He was joined on the sidelines by fellow Ian Black trainee Fifty Proof. Their stablemate, Stormy Lord, picked up the pieces managing four wins in seven starts including the G2 Connaught Cup. Classy vet Musketier won three races in 2011 including two G2 events, the Elkhorn and W.L McKnight, as well as the G3 Singspiel. Simmard was a neck from winning the G1 Northern Dancer in September and Kara's Orienation captured the G2 Sky Classic in August with a front-end romp.

Musketier: The classy grey Acatenango-Myth and Reality fellow won three times in nine starts, adding a second and a third while banking $347,289. In February and March at Gulfstream, he finished third in the G2 Mac Diarmida behind Prince Will I Am and Rahy's Attorney, and then second in the G3 Pan American won by Rahy's Attorney. The Roger Attfield charge topped a neat Woodbine-friendly triactor next out by winning the G2 Elkhorn over Mark Casse's Pool Play and Mark Frostad's Windward Islands. Musketier would take the G3 Singspiel in June, but faltered in the G2 Sky Classic and G1 Canadian International. However, Musketier proved to have one more bullet left to fire in November taking the G2 W.L McKnight at Calder by half a length over Simmard and Winchester.

The oh-so-handsome Musketier and friend

Simmard: Attfield not only trains Simmard, he owns a piece of the Dixieland Band horse as well. He won just once, an optional claimer at Gulfstream, in 2011, but managed three stunning place efforts; second to Rahy's Attorney in a Woodbine allowance; a neck behind Wigmore Hall in the G1 Northern Dancer; and defeated just half a length in the above-noted W.L McKnight to Musketier.

Stormy Lord: The tiny, but mighty, Stormy Atlantic-Lady Auchamore gelding had an all-or-nothing campaign with a record of 4-0-0 in seven starts. His wins, however, were spectacular. He led gate to wire in the G2 Connaught Cup to open his 2011 account over Hailstone and Grand Adventure. He won the Ontario Jockey Club in July and traveled to Philadelphia to win the PTHA President's Cup in September before returning to Woodbine to take the Labeeb. Stormy Lord finished sixth in the G3 Tropical Turf Handicap at Calder in December to complete his campaign when a win might have made this vote closer.

Stormy Lord, aka Chihuahua, smiles for the camera

Earnings by category:

1. Stormy Lord, $397,200
2. Musketier, $347,289
3. Signature Red, $243,195
*Note: Pender Harbour earned $840K and is eligible in this category, but his two turf wins, the Breeders Stakes and the restricted Bunty Lawless are a step below the above company. (Not to say that Pender Harbour might not prove to be a top turfer in the future.)

Sprint Female

If a peak performance can win a category, then I'd have to point to Atlantic Hurricane's emphatic score in the G3 Bessarabian. Facing off against contenders such as Ariana D and Embur's Song, the Stuart Simon trainee rated to the half and then pulled Emile Ramsammy to a five-length win. It was a 'wow' performance. In addition to the above-noted contenders, one has to consider the turf sprinter Jenny's So Great who won the G3 Royal North and traveled to Tampa in December to win the Lightning City Stakes.

Atlantic Hurricane: Stuart Simon claimed Atlantic Hurricane, a Florida-bred daughter of Halo's Image-It's the Cats Meow, in June for $40K. She won that race and the next three in a row for Simon, including the G3 Seaway over Embur's Song. She faltered in the Avowal on a day when lots went right for Ariana D but got her revenge next out in the Ontario Fashion with a half length score over Waccmaw and Ariana D. Atlantic Hurricane completed her six-win season with the above mentioned Bessarabian to win her second G3 of the meet. Not bad for a former claiming horse.

A Sovereign Award winning performance by Atlantic Hurricane in the Bessarabian

Jenny's So Great: After winning the Zadracarta in June at seven furlongs, the Ontario-bred daughter of Greatness-Jenny's Search tried her luck in the nine-furlong G2 Canadian and finished a well-beaten ninth. She returned to the winner's circle in her next start sprinting to victory in the G3 Royal North. Following a fifth-place effort in the G2 Presque Isle Downs Masters, Jenny's So Great found herself overmatched in the G1 Nearctic won by likely Eclipse Award champ Regally Ready. She redeemed herself in December, sprinting to a well-measured win in the five furlong Lightning City at Tampa.

Earnings by category:

1. Embur's Song, $438,750
2. Atlantic Hurricane, $387,600
3. Bear It's Time, $326,650

Sprint Male

This is a nice group of horses who took turns winning over the course of 2011. Artic Fern was the hero of the King Corrie defeating Signature Red and Hollywood Hit. The latter was the winner of the Bold Venture over Signature Red. Essence Hit Man bookended his season with wins in the Jacques Cartier over Signature Red, and the G3 Kennedy Road where he got the better of Gypsy Ring and the ubiquitious Signature Red. Gypsy Ring won the Overskate over Paso Doble and was a monster in the G1 Nearctic when third, defeated just a neck, by Breeders' Cup winner Regally Ready and Bated Breath. That's some steep company. And just to add to the confusion, two-time stakes winner Paso Doble managed to defeat all of the locally-bsed horses listed above, with the exception of Gypsy Ring, in a four-win season.

Essence Hit Man can only be captured on film when standing still

Essence Hit Man: This horse makes me wish there were more five-furlong added-money sprints. The Ontario-bred son of Speightstown-El Prado Essence routinely runs a sub-44 half. After breezing to victory in the Jacques Cartier, he made the pace in the G3 Vigil and G2 Highlander, but then flamed out in the six and a half furlong Bold Venture. After a freshening, he finished second in an allowance and capped his season with a superb score in the G3 Kennedy Road that earned a 94 Beyer number.

Gypsy Ring: This gelding loves a fight. He hit the board in six of seven starts and was good enough to win the Overskate by five, but waited around for competition and won by a neck instead. He proved his quality in the G1 Nearctic where he was sent to post at 18-1, but refused to quit, battling the length of the E.P Taylor Turf Course to finish 3rd, a neck behind likely Eclipse Award winner Regally Ready. In his season finale, Essence Hit Man got too far in front of Gypsy Ring with a slow (for Hit Man) 44 and change half, and the Paul Buttigieg trainee settled for second.

Signature Red: Although he won just once, the G2 Highlander in June, Signature Red was a moneymaker in 2011 hitting the board in seven of eight starts. He chased home Essence Hit Man in the Jacques Cartier, Hollywood Hit in the Bold Venture and Artic Fern in the King Corrie. His high-percentage season helped the Bernstein-Irish and Foxy horse bank $243,195.

Luis Contreras and Signature Red bundled up at Woodbine

Earnings by category:
1. Essence Hit Man, $281,068
2. Paso Doble, $263,080
3. Signature Red, $247,560

2011 Owner Candidates

Melnyk Racing Stables was the leading owner, by earnings, at Woodbine in 2011 having banked in excess of $1.6M with 29 wins, narrowly edging out Bear Stables Ltd. Stronach Stables trio of stakes winners, City Wolf, Smart Sting and Don Cavallo, made an impact.

All of the above have previously won a Sovereign Award, but perhaps some votes will arrive for both Donver Stable and John C. Oxley whose horses made waves at Woodbine in 2011.

Donver Stable are led by the Oaks/Plate winner Inglorious and the Nandi winner Notacloudinthesky. Horses owned by Donver Stable won 14 of 70 starts at Woodbine in 2011 and the team finished third in the local standings.

John C. Oxley teamed up with trainer Mark Casse for great success at the Woodbine meet. His horses were in the money 63% of the time with a record of 13-15-10 from 60 starts. Oxley's young runners, Dixie Strike, Prospective and Northern Passion all won stakes at Woodbine, and the latter two tried their luck at the Breeders' Cup.

2011 Breeder Candidates
It was announced earlier this week that Adena Springs, for the ninth consecutive year, led all North American breeders by purse earnings in 2011. Horses bred by Adena Springs won 445 races earning US$14,641,413. Now, obviously, not all of that happened in Canada but the numbers are certainly staggering. Adena's notable runners in Canada included Judy the Beauty, Amiable Grace and Stunning Stag to name a few.

What an incredible season for Gardiner Farms whose winners in 2011 include Pender Harbour, Bear It's Time and Kitty's Got Class.

Arosa Farms provided Inglorious and Dixie Strike and let's not forget about Charles E. Fipke whose homebred Pefect Shirl won a Breeders' Cup race and also raced Impossible Time and Check Your Soul.

Another breeders to consider is 2009 category winner Eugene Melnyk who was represented by stakes winners Indian Pond and Roxy Gap. As well, multiple Sovereign award winning breeder Sam-Son Farms provided stakes winners Forest Uproar and Smart Roar in 2011.

2011 Trainer Candidates

With a month or so to go in the 2011 Woodbine campaign, I was pretty certain Mark Casse was going to win his fourth Sovereign Award as the nation's top trainer by open lengths. However, Roger Attfield enjoyed a late-season surge taking the E.P Taylor with Miss Keller, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Perfect Shirl and even Musketier popped up with a G2 win at Calder.

Still, Casse, who won a record 119 races at Woodbine in 2011 en route to his fifth-consecutive training title, has likely done more than enough to earn this honour. The trainer sent out Pool Play for a brilliant upset score in the G1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June, and his two-year-olds were special at Woodbine including Ontario Lassie winner Noble Strike, G3 Grey winner Prospective and G3 Natalma winner Northern Passion.

Ralph Biamonte, who earned $2,003,459.00 from a modest 140 starts including nine stakes races at Woodbine, is well worthy of a nomination. Five of his six stakes winners - Run In Aruba, Jenna's Wabbit, Banner Bill, Rose and Shine, Menlo Castle - were two-year-olds. The other stakes winner, Citius, is a multiple stakes winner. Biamonte made the most from his limited starts in 2011.

2011 Jockey Candidates

Luis Contreras notched 220 wins and banked in excess of $12.2M in 2011 to lead the way for all Canadian-based jockeys. Contreras captured a 'personal Triple Crown' winning all three Canadian classics - the Queen's Plate, Prince of Wales and Breeders' Stakes - albeit aboard two different horses, Inglorious and Pender Harbour, and won five graded races in a magnificent campaign.

Patrick Husbands enjoyed continued success in 2011 having his picture snapped 193 times, including 24 added-money scores, highlighted by the season-ending Valedictory Stakes aboard Eagle Poise.

Emma-Jayne Wilson notched 143 wins in 2011, but might be best remembered for a pair of second-place finishes with Moonshine Mullin in the G2 Jim Dandy and a terrific ride in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf when she guided Excaper to the wire, and won a photo for place, in the $1-million Grade 1 event.

Emma-Jayne and Excaper at the Breeders' Cup

Mario Gutierrez nothced 15 stakes wins on the west coast in an 85 win season that saw the journeyman win 85 races in 309 starts. Gutierrez finished second in the Hastings standings, just 3 wins behind Richard Hamel, but his stakes scores were enough to make Gutierrez the leading money-earner at the track with more than $1.4M banked.

2011 Apprentice Jockey Candidates

What a difficult category to evaluate. In 2010, Omar Moreno was a no-brainer taking both the Sovereign and Eclipse Award as top apprentice with 144 wins and $5.3 million in purses.

None of this year's apprentices came close to Moreno's mark, but one of the following is likely to pick up the trophy.

Scott Williams, based at Northlands Park in Edmonton, led all Canadian-based apprentice jockeys with 39 wins in 2011. Williams, with a record of 39-41-29 in 211 starts, banked $409,533.

Ryan Pacheco was the top money-earner of the group with $777,741 on the back of a 25-win season. Pacheco was a regular at Woodbine and Fort Erie through much of the 2011 campaign.

Betty Jo Williams, who wins with 15 percent of her mounts, completed 2011 with a record of 37-28-46 from 247 mounts.

Betty Jo Williams on the E.P Taylor Turf Course

2011 Outstanding Broodmare Candidates

The Outstanding Broodmare Award is for lifetime achievement. In order to be eligible for this award, a broodmare must have a Canadian-bred stakes horse (by definition the horse must have come 1st, 2nd, or 3rd) in the current year and must also have produced a different Canadian-bred stakes horse in a previous year.

Perhaps this category is where the now-retired Rahy's Attorney might lend his influence as his dam, Rahy's Hope, is among the notable broodmares eligible for this honour.

Noble Strike, the 2002 Belle Geste Stakes winner and dam of Woodbine Oaks/Queen's Plate winner Inglorious, will be a popular selection amongst voters. In addition to Inglorious, there are high hopes for her 2011 Ontario Lassie winner Dixie Strike.

Muskrat Suzie, who earned a modest $32K in a 15-race career, provided two of my favourite Woodbine runners of recent memory - Jambalaya and Riley Ripasso. Jambalaya, trained by Catherine Day Phillips, is a multiple graded winner having captured the G1 Arlington Million, the G1 Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup Turf S. and the G3 Bulleit Bourbon Pan American H. in 2007 He also won the G3 Saranac in 2005 at Saratoga. The dark bay earned more than $1.6M from nine wins in 23 lifetime starts. Although Riley Ripasso is a little less storied, the Debbie England trainee enjoyed a breakout year in 2011 taking her maiden score in June and ending her campaign with a win in the With Approval Stakes.

Jambalaya wins the 2007 Arlington Million

* * *

That's a lot of information to absorb in one sitting and certainly some categories (Jockey, Three-year-old Female, Three-year-old Male) will be a little easier to select that others (Older Male, Male Sprinter, Broodmare).

I'll take a night to 'sleep on it' before posting my picks in advance of Friday's deadline. For those that made it to the end of this lengthy post, I'm curious to read your own selections if you care to comment below.


Anonymous said...

IMHO, in terms of quality, the 2 yr old fillies category is the toughest one to pick. You could make a strong case that 3 of the top 4 Winterbook Plate favorites are Canadian bred fillies (Northern Passion, Dixie Strike and Hard Not To Like), that doesn't even include Rose and Shine or American bred Tu Endie Wei. Good luck picking someone in that category, all 5 have a legit claim and 2 won't even be finalists. Northern Passion would have my vote simply because she beat the best turf/synthetic 2 yr old filly in North America in her Natalma victory.

I'd also vote for Maritimer in the 2 yr old colt/gelding category-I like Excaper but a placing should not top victories in races like the Coronation. Maritimer was scary good when they stretched him out on the Poly.

Older Male is tough...In a divided category, I'd trust my eyeballs and go with who looked the best and the most impressive performance I saw all year by an older male was Don Cavallo in the Dominion Day, he set the place on fire that day.

Older Turf Male- It has to be Stormy Lord. Nobody ever seems to hype this horse much but as a fan, I love him. He just goes out there and does his job. He truly danced every dance, from early in the Woodbine turf season winning the Connaught Cup to winning the Labeeb. After a long season, I'll give him a pass for his race in the Tropical Turf. He is a little horse that deserves some praise. Also, you can't argue with the earnings.

Male and Female Sprinters- I think Atlantic Hurricane should be a no doubt about it winner. With the championship on the line, she smoked them in the Bessarabian and championships should be won later in the season. Easy vote, imho.

I'd also vote for Essence Hit Man, another horse that just smoked the field at the end of the meet. When he is on, boy he is ever on...

Jen Morrison said...

why not Fifty Proof for older male?

Keith-TDH said...

Thanks for the comments!

Anon - The number of quality 2YO fillies at Woodbine last year was startling. I'm hoping they'll continue to impress in 2012. The 'boys' took quite a beating in 2011 with a filly winning the Plate and the International!

Jen - Fifty Proof is definitely a contender as well. On the board in all four starts...if he had stayed healthy he would own the category, and still might.


I honestly think Atlantic Hurricane should be in Older Female (Main Track) and is more deserving than Embur's Song!

I agree with Jen Morrison, Fifty Proof was solid for a good part of the season...

Excaper vs. Maritimer, v. tough but I feel that Excaper's last race at GP might have hurt his chances.

Horse of the Year? Definitely Never Retreat!

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