Sam-Son Farm's heavily favored Soaring Free overcame a bumping incident coming out of the gate to register a three-quarter of a length win in the $173,400 Play the King (Can-III) at Woodbine Saturday.
Lugging top weight of 126 pounds, the 3-5 Soaring Free became an emphatic favorite in the $1 million Atto Mile (Can-I) Sept.19 at Woodbine.
With Todd Kabel aboard Soaring Free clocked a 1:20.97 time for the seven-furlong turf event.
The 5-year-old gelded son of Smart Strike
had come into the Play The King fresh from a North American record performance in the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes July 24, getting seven furlongs on the grass in 1:19.38. It wasn't nearly as smooth this time around.
He overcame a stumble and a bump at the start, before being moved into a stalking third-place position behind pacesetters Bachelor Blues and Cat Genius.
After the half was reached in :45.33, Soaring Free sailed to the front, coming off the far turn and prepared for the long stretch run over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course. Sprinting clear in early stretch, he first repelled 40-1 outsider Dancin Joey, the eventual third-place finisher, then had more than enough left in the tank to hold off another 40-1 shot, Frank's Selection, who had come through on the rail.
"He got bumped hard leaving the gate. I think I got it from both sides," said Kabel, Woodbine's leading rider (he won four races Saturday) who was celebrating his colony best 23rd stakes win of the season. "I was a little concerned. He got stepped on and he wasn't extending himself like he normally does coming away from there. But it all worked out well. He ran another great race. He proved that he's the man around here."
The only time the homebred has tasted defeat this year was on May 15 at Pimlico Racetrack, when he finished ninth in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap at six furlongs over the main track.
Trainer Mark Frostad was also duly impressed with Soaring Free's effort. "He's pretty good right now. It will take a helluva horse to beat him (in the Atto Mile)."
Last year, he won his first five races, including the Play The King, before finishing second, just a half-length behind Touch of the Blues, in the Atto. He would go on to be fourth in the Shadwell Mile (gr. IT) before a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). He was later crowned Canada's top sprinter.
Soaring Free's career bankroll is now at $1,221,784, after today's winning share of $104,040. He's won 12 of 20 lifetime outings, with three runner-up finishes.
Soaring Free returned $3.20, $2.60 and $2.20, combining with Frank's Selection ($15.80, $12.10) for a $80.50 exacta. Dancin Joey ($10.90) completed a $1,307 trifecta.