Ralph Biamonte enjoyed a banner 2011 campaign winning 28 races at Woodbine, nine of them added-money events, in just 130 starts. Biamonte's bankroll bulged to $2,003,459.00 on the back of five talented juvenile stakes winners - Banner Bill, Menlo Castle, Run in Aruba, Rose and Shine and Jenna's Wabbit.
Menlo Castle hopes to be king of the Queen's Plate
Understandably, the conditioner is excited about his 2012 campaign which kicks into gear this weekend as Rose and Shine makes her 2012 debut in the Star Shoot Stakes and then shifts into overdrive on Sunday when he sends out three starters, including Queen's Plate Winterbook second choice Menlo Castle, in the Woodstock Stakes.
Will Rose and Shine bloom in the Star Shoot?
"He had a real good winter," says Biamonte of Simcoe Stakes winner Menlo Castle. "He came back a much better horse than he was last year. We've got him in the Woodstock on Sunday and I think he'll give a real good account of himself."
Biamonte clocks Excellent Chance and Open Ice Hit
Like many of Biamonte's runners, Menlo Castle winter trained at Crupi's New Castle Farm in Ocala, Florida. The dark bay son of Forest Danger-Romantic Tryst is expected to follow a familiar road to the Queen's Plate via the Queenston Stakes and Plate Trial, following his start on Sunday against stablemates Where's Johnson and Run in Aruba.
"This is very nerve wracking for me," admits Biamonte. "I've had exciting times in the past, but with lesser calibre horses. This puts us in a different plateau. It's tense, not just for me, but for everyone in the barn. But, it's worthwhile."
Open Ice Hit (outside) and Excellent Chance in tandem
The talented filly Rose and Shine leads off the weekend for the busy stable by taking on Sovereign Award winner Tu Endie Wei in Saturday's six furlong Star Shoot Stakes.
"We had her down at Ocala and she had a lot of works there and two works here," says Biamonte. "We just gate schooled her this morning (Thursday) to remind her and we're ready to go Saturday. We didn't break out of the gate, she remembers how to do that!"
The Mr. Sekiguchi-Yellowenglishrose filly who notched three wins, a second and a third in seven starts, while banking $352,320 for owner James Sabiston, is pointed at the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser.
"I wish I had Tu Endie Wei's chances, but we'll run good," says Biamonte. "She's building up towards the race on June 3, the Oaks, so we have to start somewhere. I think she'll give a good account."
Is Jazzy Alexis going to be the new stable star?
While last year's juvenile sensations have grown up, Biamonte's budding group of babies have a familiar ring.
"We have Jenna's Wabbit's half-sister (Sports Buff)," starts Biamonte. "She worked yesterday and she looks like she'll be a nice horse."
Sports Buff, an attractive bay daughter of Tomahawk-In The Buff, has a number of works under her belt and a long road ahead if she is to match the talent of big brother Jenna's Wabbit, who took the Bull Page and Clarendon, in a solid two-year-old campaign.
Eurico Rosa da Silva wishes good luck to Biamonte
Another promising two-year-old is Excellent Chance, a half-brother to Illinois-bred Banner Bill who was perfect in three Woodbine starts, including scores in the Victoria and Colin before a fourth-place effort in the G2 Saratoga Special won by Union Rags over a sloppy track. Biamonte advises that Banner Bill, notably absent from the work tab, is still at Crupi's New Castle recovering from a slight hairline fracture in his shoulder suffered over the winter. Following two months of stall rest, Banner Bill will be back in training shortly.
Excellent Chance, a bay son of City Zip-Temporada owned by Ron Magers & Robert Marcocchio, worked in tandem on Thursday morning with Open Ice Hit, a son of Perfect Soul, breezing three furlongs in :38.20 on the dirt training track.
Jazzy Alexis, a chestnut Afleet Alex-Yong Musician filly, breezed three furlongs in :36.80 on Wednesday and could prove to be the best of the bunch.
Biamonte, who brings equal parts honesty and modesty to the table, can only shrug his shoulders when asked which of the burgeoning bunch might become the stable star.
"It'll be one that we probably think is not that much that will turn out to be the star," he laughs, and then shares the following nugget regarding 2009 Woodbine Oaks winner Milwaukee Appeal. "I had that horse (Milwaukee Appeal) originally and didn't want it. I didn't think it was much. We sent her to Florida to train and I ended up giving her to Scottie Fairlie. The one I kept instead took two years to break its maiden for $5,000 and Milwaukee Appeal made $1.3 million.That's how smart I was!"
When Biamonte is reminded he's no slouch having trained five juveniles to win added-money events in his breakout campaign, the conditioner smiles and shrugs.
"I think we had some nice horses, a good crew and the stars all aligned," he says.
Sports Buff could have her photo taken many times this year
Biamonte, who was deserving of a Sovereign Award nomination for his excellent efforts in 2011, would much rather see his horses take the limelight.
"I'd just as soon win races with the horses than have me win something," he laughs.
* * *
There's so much to like about Hillsbrook Farms filly Hard Not to Like. The Gail Cox trainee, who won three of five starts in 2011 en route to a solid fifth-place effort in the Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, impressed in her three-year-old debut closing to finish second in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.
Hard Not to Like up for second in the Ashland
The Hard Spun-Like a Gem grey was angled off the rail by Robby Albarado in the stretch run and drifted out slightly in her first effort on a synthetic surface, while closing on the front-running winner Karlovy Vary.
Home sweet home for the filly they call 'Lila'
“I was so impressed with her,” said Cox. “She got trapped down there a little bit and really couldn't get out when she wanted to. I thought she closed really well.”
Dixie Strike, named the Queen’s Plate Winterbook favourite in March following a win in the Florida Oaks, finished fifth.
Love me don't just 'Like' me!
Cox and owner/breeder Garland Williamson will discuss a number of possibilities, including the Kentucky Oaks, before deciding on where the filly, who wintered at Payson Park in Florida, will race next.
“The whole time she was at Payson Park she worked on the dirt and I was quite impressed with how she worked there,” offered Cox. “It's a bit of a deeper track, but it's quite easy to get through, probably more a sand surface like Florida tracks are, but she handled it very well. She's never run on it (dirt), so there's always that question, but she'd also never run on the Poly (prior to the Ashland) and that certainly went well.”
Mischievous stable mate Something Extra...
Another option for the talented Hard Not to Like, who beat the boys twice as a two-year-old, is the Selene Stakes at Woodbine. Cox is mindful of preparing the filly for a run at the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen's Plate.
...decides to get fresh with his groom, Sarah!
"She has lots of options, we just have to think about how we want to handle it," says Cox. "I don't like that you only have three weeks between the (Woodbine) Oaks and the Plate, but that's how it is. She definitely came out of this race really well and we'll just have to play it by ear."
On physical appearance alone, the filly has certainly matured in the off season.
"She really has grown up," agrees Cox. "We gave her some time off after the Breeders', which I'm really happy we did. She really got taller and filled out a lot. She went to Ocala for six weeks to turn out and get a break and then she came to me at Payson Park in Florida. She got back into training just before Christmas."
Promiscuous, another grey Cox filly, is destined to be a great broodmare
Although the filly is now back in the familiar confines of her Woodbine stall, don't be surprised if she hits the road again soon.
"She's a filly that really enjoys shipping around so that's not a problem," smiles Cox. "She's very professional."
Quote of the Week
“I think we’ve got to ask the racing commission on Derby morning if we can take him and put him on the van and ride him around.” - - Assistant trainer Norm Casse talks to the Courier-Journal's Jennie Rees about Propsective's fondness for road trips.
Race Call of the Week
"They're at the post..." - - track announcer Dan Loiselle lets the fans make the call out of the gate in the 2012 Woodbine opener.
Debut Stakes winner Gypsy Ring with friend Lisa
Tweet of the Week
"Woot woot! - - jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson @EJWilson81 celebrates her first Woodbine win of the season.
I hope more jockeys (and trainers, agents and owners) will get on board the Twitter train and share their racetrack experiences like this one from Emma early Thursday morning:
"Walking back to the barn /w Skippy and Excaper!"
This and That
A story and video on Northlands Park trainer Amanda Gregory (aka @Dapplehorse) who graduated the Olds College groom program and is now living the dream as a thoroughbred trainer. Check out the feature story: Young thoroughbred trainer is all systems go.
Documentary on Amanda Gregory
The Osoyoos Times caught up with trainer Lianne Knechtel in a piece they call2011 Canadian Derby Champion and trainer return to Osoyoos and Desert Park:
The decision to come and train in Osoyoos at Desert Park in the spring of 2010 was a simple one, said Knechtel.
“I had raced here as a jockey several years ago when this was a busy racetrack,” she said. “I knew it was a nice facility and I knew the weather was excellent this time of the year.
“Three years ago a bunch of us horsemen at Northlands were talking about where we could go to train in the spring because the winters there are just too cold. I mentioned it might be worth coming to Osoyoos because the spring weather is so nice, so we did and I’ve been here training horses in the spring ever since.”
Espn's Bill Finley tells the story of @Mario_Hastings who just might be The unlikeliest Ky. Derby jockey:
O'Neill asked Gutierrez to work I'll Have Another and, after doing so, the jockey was convinced there was no way he would get the mount.
"I knew this was a really nice horse," he said. "We were driving back to Santa Anita [after working I'll Have Another at Hollywood Park] and I just started laughing and my agent asked me why? I said, 'They'll never let me ride this horse.' He asked why and I told him he was way too nice a horse for me to get the mount."
O'Neill stuck with Gutierrez and he guided I'll Have Another to 2 ¾-length win in the Feb. 4 Robert Lewis Stakes at odds of 43-1. It was a flawless ride and Gutierrez was every bit as good when I'll Have Another nosed out favorite Creative Cause to win the Santa Anita Derby.
Still Need More?
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.
(Double-left click on the image to enlarge it and use your "BACK" button to return to the Photoblog)
Top jock Jim McAleney signs an autograph on Opening Day
Down The Stretch editor Peter Gross speaks to Caroline Duquet
Luis Contreras with former Woodbine rider Calvin Brown
Absoulute Heaven wins the first Woodbine race of 2012
Essence Hit Man on his way to the track to win the Jacques Cartier
Big Band Sound and Tyler Pizarro completed the exactor
Artic Fern circles the willow tree
Paso Doble steps to the track
Crazy fast two-year-old champ Madman Diaries in the walking ring
Shabaab will skewer the competition next time out
A troubled trip means this one might have Something Extra to give next time
Essence Hit Man wins the Jacques Cartier
Gail Cox thinks pretty highly of Conceited
Hard Not to Like teases the onlooking Something Extra
Stay Silent quietly grazing
Twice With Ice enjoys a pick of grass
A pair of Arravale Racing workers hit the track
Under a watchful eye...
I only went with her 'cause she looks like you, my god!!!