Hillsbrook Farms' homebred Like a Gem is the lukewarm 5-2 morning line favorite among 10 Canadian-foaled 3-year-old fillies set to contest the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks at nine furlongs Sunday at the Toronto track.
Trained by Dan Vella, Like a Gem drew post 4. A winner in two of six career starts and $143,418, the daughter of Tactical Cat
comes into the Oaks off a neck loss to Gumboots in the seven furlong Fury Stakes, May 7. Robert Landry, seeking a fourth Oaks win, after victories in 1997 (Capdiva), 2000 (Catch the Ring) and 2003 (Too Late Now), will ride the grey/roan filly, as he has throughout her career.
"She's been training wonderfully," said Vella. "Luckily, our filly is blessed with what everybody wants these days. She's got stalking speed going long. Having an experienced rider like Rob, I think he can put her where he needs to put her. If the pace is too slow, she can attend the pace. If the pace is quick, she can be three, four lengths out of it. She's proven that she can come from nowhere and she's proven she can show speed going long."
Favorites have won the last eight editions of the Woodbine Oaks, a streak which started with Kirby's Song in 1998 and continued with last year's winner, Gold Strike.
The field's leading money winner, with $256,130, is Kinghaven Farms' homebred Seductively, the 3-1 second choice who will break from post 6 for trainer Ian Black. The daughter of Thunder Gulch
pulled off a surprise in the 1 1/16-mile Selene Stakes (Can-III) May 24, leading all the way in scoring by three-quarters of a length over two American-breds, Angel On Watch and Top Notch Lady.
Gerry Olguin retains the mount on Seductively, who has also won two of six career starts and will be looking to give Kinghaven its fourth Oaks victory. Like a Gem and Seductively have met on three previous occasions, though, with Like a Gem finishing in front of her rival each time.
Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad will be represented by homebred Strike Softly, the third choice at 9-2 from post 9. Sam-Son has won a leading seven Oaks, the last by Eye of the Sphynx in 2004, while Frostad will be seeking his fourth Oaks victory.
Strike Softly, to be handled by two-time Oaks winner Todd Kabel, is a daughter of former Sam-Son stakes winner Smart Strike
, who has sired the last two winners of the Oaks.
However, she'll be trying to make history by becoming the first winner of the Oaks with only one previous start as a 3-year-old. In her seasonal bow, Strike Softly finished third, two lengths behind Gumboots and Like a Gem in the Fury Stakes. She was subsequently sick, missed some time, and has been trained up to the classic.
Beclawat Stable's Sweet Breanna, to be ridden by apprentice Justin Stein, enters the Oaks off a 5 1/4-length romp in a 1 1/16-mile allowance contest on May 13. Trained by Steve Attard, Sweet Breanna has been pegged as the 8-1 co-fourth choice and drew post 3.
Wedded Woman, who broke her maiden impressively last year at Woodbine in her career debut, represents Stronach Stables. Trained by Brian Lynch, the daughter of Brazilian-bred Siphon
also won a turf allowance race at Gulfstream Park in March before finishing third in another grass contest April 12 in her last start. Jono Jones will ride the 8-1 co-fourth choice from post 5, as Stronach seeks a second Oaks win after taking the 1999 renewal with Touch Dial.$500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks (Race 9, 5:10 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies Foaled in Canada, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Questuary (ON), Raymond Sabourin
2. Kimchi (MB), Patrick Husbands
3. Sweet Breanna (ON), Justin Stein
4. Like a Gem (ON), Robert Landry
5. Wedded Woman (ON), Jono Jones
6. Seductively (ON), Gerry Olguin
7. London Snow (ON), Steven Ronald Bahen
8. Executive Flight (ON), James McAleney
9. Strike Softly (ON), Todd Kabel
10. Our Madison (ON), Corey FraserEach assigned 121 pounds.