Saturday, June 2, 2012

'Dixie' poised to strike in Woodbine Oaks...

On Sunday, Mark Casse will send out three talented fillies in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks led by Queen's Plate Winterbook favourite Dixie Strike. The John Oxley filly is a half-sister to last year's Oaks / Queen's Plate champion Inglorious and after her stunning performance in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes is a deserving 6-5 morning line favourite.

Oxley's Northern Passion (5-2) and Eugene Melnyk's Black Bird Rock (12-1), both trained by Casse, will provide the main opposition.
Is Dixie Strike your Oaks winner?

In preparing for a handicapping seminar held at Woodbine this morning, I took a quick look back at the last five Oaks winners (Sealy Hill, Ginger Brew, Milwaukee Appeal, Roan Inish and Inglorious) and noted the following similarities:

1. All raced as juveniles
2. All had won at two-turns before the Oaks
3. All had won a stakes race before the Oaks

Of the nine horses that will line up on Sunday in the nine furlong main track event, only Dixie Strike and Rose and Shine meet the above criteria.

However, while Dixie Strike has progressed as a three-year-old winning the Florida Oaks in her 2012 debut and her recent tour de force in the Selene, we have yet to see the best of Rose and Shine this season when sprinting in the Fury (5th) and Star Shoot (6th).

Perhaps a return to routing will wake up Rose and Shine - - but I find it hard to use her, or anyone other than Dixie Strike, on top of the ticket.

Seven out of ten experts selected Dixie Strike in a panel recently posted on the Woodbine Oaks site. The three dissenters all selected Northern Passion as the upsetter.

My only knock against Northern Passion is that she has yet to win going two turns. However, her second dam Gleaming Glory did produce 2002 Oaks winner Ginger Gold. Northern Passion was ridden out in the Fury last out and came back with a pair of works that had Casse raving.

“I’ve said it on numerous occasions to numerous people that my feeling has always been that Dixie Strike is better than Northern Passion," said Casse. "But I have to tell you that when Northern Passion breezed the other day (May 21), it was one of the most impressive breezes that I have ever seen (five furlongs in a bullet 59 seconds, the fastest of 39 works at the distance). We got her the last half in :46 (seconds) flat. Luis was on her. He was excited. He said he was going to win the Oaks.”

Can Northern Passion defeat her stablemate?

Here's a quick look at a few other Oaks contenders that could spice up your exotic wagers.

Black Bird Rock has won going two turns, albeit in a slowish maiden race. Her dam Black Rock Road is a stakes winner at Woodbine and her sire is Flower Alley, same as Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another. It's not often you get a 12-1 morning line on the Casse / Melnyk combo. Although her form suggests 'out-of-the-clouds', Casse believes that Black Bird Rock will be more forwardly placed in the Oaks.

“Black Bird Rock (will) be up close," said Casse. "She’s got some speed. Of the three fillies, she’ll be the toughest to rate. She was stuck inside (in the maiden race) and Patrick was checking her the entire time. If there isn’t a whole lot of speed and nobody’s in front of her, she may be a little tougher to handle. But I can see her up close if the pace is slow. The other fillies will sit back and rate.”

Irish Mission is huge. Her barn name is 'Biggins’ and she stands 17 hands. That’s La Lorgnette big. The Mark Frostad trainee is a half to multiple turf stakes winner French Beret of Sam-Son fame and is guaranteed to be a handful in the Wonder Where, but her class could carry her in the Oaks for a share.

Irish Mission has a 'tall' order in the Oaks...

“Her last two races have been really nice efforts,” offered Frostad, of the pair of grass races, a second-place finish at Gulfstream on March 29 and an impressive victory in Kentucky. “She’s started to figure everything out which you can see in her last two races. We always thought we had a good filly and she’s really showing it now.”

Awesome Fire did not like the heat in Florida where she wintered. Her trainer Nick Gonzalez says she’s a changed horse since returning to Woodbine, has put on weight, and she got a good run in the Fury. She's entitled to improve and pick up a share.

“I wasn’t really happy with the way she was training over that dirt track (in Florida),” says Gonzalez. “She wasn’t doing well with the excessive heat we had over the winter time there in Miami, but it served its purpose and got her good and fit.”

Despite the talented group listed above, I do like Dixie Strike to win the Oaks and will key her in the late Pick 4 which will allow me to spread in the contentious Plate Trial.

1. Dixie Strike
2. Black Bird Rock
3. Northern Passion
4. Irish Mission

A few quick notes on the PLATE TRIAL which is shaping up as a race with speed to close into. Incredicat, Beeker Street and Drago’s Best should all be forwardly placed.

Big Creek (6-1) closed late in the Wando and galloped out strong. Perhaps his second trip over the Poly will wake him up a bit and I like jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson's insight into Big Creek's last start.

“I thought he ran a very creditable race,” Wilson said to the DRF. “He got a little intimidated. A horse on the outside of him around the turn had him thinking a little too much. Once he got a nice clear run, he finished up really well.”

Big Creek adds blinkers on Sunday and should be more focused on the task at hand.

River Rush (20-1), a maiden, was behind a wall of horses turning into the stretch and was angled out very wide by Wilson then showed a nice burst of speed closing for place last out. He earned a 79 Beyer in that event, won by Awesome Overture in 1:44.32. The Orientate-Sweet Tart bay, owned by Stronach Stables, offers value at 20-1 in this class test...but Wilson chose Big Creek.

Peyton (20-1) had an awkward start in the Queenston (see adjacent video), raced wide, and was LAST of 8 deep in the stretch before closing smartly to finish fifth, galloping out strong.

Perhaps Peyton bounced a bit off his huge seven furlong allowance score in his 2012 debut when angled off rail deep in stretch to roll over older horses Bigstrombrewin’ and Apres Midi that earned him an 86 Beyer. He’s won going two turns and adds Justin Stein.

1. Big Creek
2. River Rush
3. Peyton
4. Making Amends


“I don’t have a crystal ball, like some other trainers...I’ll tell you at the eighth pole.” - - Reade Baker to the DRF on how Tu Endie Wei, who has never trained on the turf, will fare in her turf debut in Sunday's Alywow Stakes.


A pair of musically themed tweets caught my eye this week..

"If the Wesley Ward-trained Kansas wins Belmont's race 3 tomorrow, will her rivals be dust in the wind?" - - Nick Kling aka @DocFonda (The filly finished fourth...)

-- and --

"National anthem, then Karma Police at Belmont; reversal of Wed Radiohead show in Newark: Karma Police, then The National Anthem in encore" - - courtesy of columnist @Mike_MacAdam after Ramon Dominguez won Saturday's Belmont opener with Karma Police.


"...and now starts to draw away...the first father/son, trainer/jockey, combination to win the Derby - - Aidan and Joseph O'Brien." - - it wasn't the cleanest of race calls but a visually stunning performance from the incredible Camelot in the Epsom Derby


Harlan Abbey reports that Neil Husbands is piling up the winners at Fort Erie:

"You think you know too much," he admitted, forgetting the hard work he'd put in for trainers By Raghunath and Desmond Maynard: "I'd muck out 15 stalls just to exercise three horses.

"Then I went to New Orleans to gallop for Josie Carroll. She'd yell at me and even sent me home a couple of times."
Now, four years later, Neil Husbands' six wins leads all apprentices at the Fort and he stands fourth overall in the jockey standings, trailing Kirk Johnson (nine) and Juan Crawford and cousin Terry Husbands (seven each).

Monte Stewart reports for the Canadian Press that Derby and Preaness winning jockey Mario Gutierrez wants to become a Canadian citizen:

"I can't really talk about that because I don't want to get (in trouble with Canadian) Immigration," Gutierrez told the Canadian Press late Thursday night following a media availability session with reporters in Surrey, B.C.
"I'll tell you when I get it," he added with a smile.

With a victory in the Belmont, Canadian-owned I'll Have Another and Gutierrez would become the first horse and jockey since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen in 1978, to win the Triple Crown.

Gutierrez fell in love with Canada while honing his skills for six seasons at Vancouver's Hastings Racecourse.

CITY TV put together a video feature on jockey Todd Kabel who has battled back from depression and is now winning races again at Woodbine.  Click this link to watch the video.

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.

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