Racing in North America is run counter-clockwise, but clockwise racing means more of Woodbine's E.P. Taylor Turf course can be utilized, allowing for more turf races. Friday's race, which carried a $46,225 (US$36,329) purse, is the first of a series that will see up to 40 clockwise races at the Toronto track during the 2016 meet.
A 5-year-old Curlin gelding ridden by Luis Contreras, Fireball Merlin stalked pacesetter and even-money favorite Omar, who was pressured by Leo's Lookin through the early stages of the five-furlong starter allowance.
Fireball Merlin picked up speed through the turn, drove between the front-runners, and then drew away down the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths. He covered the distance in :57.71.
"It's different, but it's fun at the same time," said Contreras. "My horse handled it pretty good. We got a good break and good position into the first turn. Turning for home we were in front and the last sixteenth of a mile I had no problems."
In preparation for the new style of racing, Fireball Merlin breezed four furlongs in :52 3/5 clockwise on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course June 4 in his final EuroTurf prep and went to post as the 3-1 second choice in a field of seven.
"We galloped him twice the wrong way on the training turf course and then we worked him a half-mile the wrong way out here (on the turf course) the other day and he hugged the rail," said trainer Mike Keogh. "He gets it. He's a funny horse with his leads in the morning, but he gets which lead to be on here."
The EuroTurf initiative has drawn a lot of positive attention from the industry and racing fans alike.
"It's exciting for us and it's exciting for the industry," said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group. "I want to thank the horsemen and our jockey colony. I'm very pleased that Mr. Schickedanz, who has been a longtime loyal owner, won this race which is an historic event for us. It's a good thing for the industry."
Ontario-bred Fireball Merlin has a 3-2-1 record from 14 starts. The $28,440 (Canadian) winner's share of the purse boosted his lifetime bankroll to $91,109 (Canadian). He is out of the stakes-winning Bold Ruckus mare Princess Ruckus, a half sister to Canadian champion sprinter, multiple U.S. grade I winner, and prominent sire Langfuhr.
The next EuroTurf Series event is slated for the second race on June 12 as part of a lucrative card featuring the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser, as well as the Plate Trial Stakes.