This weekend, the road to the Breeders’ Cup travels through Toronto, Canada. One week after their signature race, The Queen’s Plate, Woodbine is back at center stage with a trio of Grade 1 races, each one containing a Win-and-You-re-In designation for a BC race.
I have been to the last four runnings of the Woodbine Mile. It’s a trip I look forward to every year, not just for the racing but also for the city itself. One of my favorite restaurants in the world, Chabrol, is there. I will miss having my anniversary dinner there this year and toasting my good fortune to have met my wife, Susan, with one of their many lovely bottles of growers’ champagne.
I definitely advise keeping this weekend in mind for potential travel to North America in a post-COVID 19 world. The Woodbine course is right near the International airport, making it easy to get to. And the Woodbine Mile coincides with the annual Toronto International Film Festival, making it a more appealing trip to significant others than your average racing jaunt. Come in a few days early. Toronto in general is a lovely city to visit, and September is typically the perfect time to go weather wise.
All that said, let’s move on to the racing!
Saturday’s feature is the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, a Win-And-You’re-In for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, that has proven a key prep for that event.
This is a fabulous renewal in terms of storylines, and we’ll get to a few of those later, but I think those narratives have led to an excellent betting opportunity. #8 WAR OF WILL is overpriced at 5-2.
Last year’s Preakness winner has been reinvented as a turf horse, and this makes a lot of sense based on his pedigree – he’s by War Front out of a Sadler’s Joy mare. His win in the Maker’s Mark Mile last time was excellent, a proper piece of Grade 1 form.
Since then, this race has been the plan and he appears to be laid out for this challenge, working very well recently (though to be fair he has always worked well, even before some of his dirt duds last year).
The thing I like best is the trip he will get. I think he has developed into a push button horse. He’s got tactical speed and can lead, but he can also settle off other speed and finish. That will serve him well in this spot. In the final analysis, I think he’s a Grade 1 horse in a race full of Grade 2 and Grade 3 types, and that’s one of my favorite angles in turf racing.
The main danger may be his stablemate, #1 March to the Arch. He’s a strong finisher and he ran a blinder in the Grade 2 King Edward last time, without a particular setup. If War of Will goes too fast early, or doesn’t bring his A-game, he is likely to benefit.
But this 5-year-old is unproven at the Grade 1 level and at the prices I still prefer War of Will.
Shirl's Speight is a fascinating horse. His maiden win was a real head turner, and his win in the Grade 3 Marine confirmed his quality – the best part of the race may have been the gallop out.
Connections were high enough on him that he was briefly pointed to the Kentucky Derby (his presence there likely would have changed the result given his abundant speed). A minor illness kept him from that engagement and now his connections have found him an equally ambitious spot.
He is strong in the market and while I’m a huge fan of his, I think this is a huge ask and he looks like one to oppose at the odds.
Another popular runner attracted market attention is #4 Starship Jubilee. This 7-year-old mare has been a wonderful servant to connections, and her win the Ballston Spa two back against Sistercharlie speaks to her quality. This is her first start against males and I think she’s likely up against it despite being 11-2 in the betting at present.
The Chad Brown factor alone will draw market interest to #7 Value Proposition. He’s lightly raced and improving and absolutely could make an impact. But 11-2 odds seem too short as well.
SUNDAY STAKES ACTION
I’m not seeing any odds available for the Sunday Grade 1 races but I like a horse in each and am guessing that they’ll be playable prices.
Let’s start with Race 7, the Grade 1 Summer Stakes, a Win-and-You’re-In for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
There are a couple of runners with big figures that came sprinting – Ready to Repeat and Gretzky the Great – and I wonder if their presence might lead to a better-than-should-be price on #5 AMERICAN MONARCH.
This horse won on debut going long at Saratoga and while the figure was nothing to blog about, I think it’s very likely he’ll improve significantly for the run, as Bill Mott second-time starters often do.
He’s likely to get a good setup and I’m interested to see how this son of American Pharoah out of a Giant’s Causeway mare continues to develop.
Sunday’s ninth is the Grade 1, the Natalma Stakes, a Win-and-You’re-In for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf.
My eye is drawn to #6 LADY SPEIGHTSPEARE, a filly closely related to Shirl’s Speight, who is running in the Woodbine Mile.
She was very impressive on debut for Roger Attfield, whose charges, like those of Bill Mott, typically will move forward with a race under their girths. She showed plenty of speed and was still pulling away at the end, giving the impression that the mile distance here will be well within her scope.
It’s also encouraging that the one runner to come back from her maiden so far managed to win. I like her chances and she should be a solid price with other obvious alternatives, including Alda and Dreaming of Drew, who are tough to separate off their 1-2 run in the prep for this.