It was jockey Luis Contreras' day at Woodbine when favored Pender Harbour got up by a nose to win the $512,764 Breeders' Stakes Aug. 7 (VIDEO), making the rider the first to win the Canadian Triple Crown on more than one horse.
It also made the the 25-year-old native of Mexico a six-time winner on the day. Contreras, who won the first five races on the program, is the first to win six races on a Woodbine card since David Clark on July 17, 1998.
Contreras is the leading jockey at Woodbine this season by a wide margin. He won Canada's most famous race, the Queen's Plate, aboard the filly Inglorious in the first jewel of the Triple Crown on Woodbine's Polytrack June 26. He returned in the second leg, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie July 17, with a nose victory aboard Pender Harbour on a natural dirt surface.
"(The Triple Crown sweep) is the best thing that's happened to me," Contreras said. "I was excited before but this is absolutely amazing."
Pender Harbour, making his career debut on grass for trainer Michael De Paulo, was sent off as the 2-1 choice in the Breeders' Stakes after the early withdrawal of morning line favorite Queen'splatekitten. The Canadian Triple Crown, established in 1959, is for 3-year-olds foaled in Canada.
On a soft Woodbine turf in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes, Pender Harbour raced mid-pack in the field of 13 as Born to Boogie and Delawana sped off to lead the field by as many as 11 lengths on the backstretch while carving an opening half-mile in :48.75. The lead was shrinking rapidly, however, as they completed the opening mile with Delawana in front in 1:41.64.
Celtic Conviction, racing at the head of the second pack on the backstretch, took the lead from the tiring leaders approaching the quarter-pole as Stunning Split and Hippolytus took up the chase. Pender Harbour, seventh with two furlongs to run, swung to the outside on the final turn and launched an all-out charge after angling farther out at the head of the stretch.
Pender Harbour, at the center of the course, closed relentlessly to get up just before the wire over Celtic Conviction, with the fast closing Crown's Path 2 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Jesse Campbell, aboard Crown's Path, lodged an objection against Celtic Conviction and Emile Ramsammy for interference in the stretch. Stewards upheld the objection and disqualified Celtic Conviction, placing him third.
"He was comfortable the whole way," Contreras said of Pender Harbour. "I just tried to keep him in the race. I was in a good position, and I tried to keep my position. Turning for home, when I put my horse outside and really asked him, he gave me everything. He was a little tired at the end, but I was tired too."
The final time was 2:36.31 on the soft going after heavy rains earlier in the day. The clocking was more than 10 seconds off the track mark.
Pender Harbour became the first horse in six years to capture two-thirds of Canada's Triple Crown. A Bit O' Gold, who also won the Prince of Wales and Breeders' Stakes, was the last horse to capture two legs of the Triple Crown in 2004.
Owned by Dennis Andrews, Sandra Lazaruk, and Rob and Roberta Giffin, Pender Harbour was third in the Queen's Plate, finishing 4 1/2 lengths behind Inglorious. The chestnut gelding, by Philanthropist --Uproar, by Half the Ruckus, was bred in Ontario by Gardiner Farms.
De Paulo said Pender Harbour would get a rest after a busy two months in which he raced four times.
"I wasn't sure," DePaulo said of the head-bob finish in the race. "For a second there, I thought we got beat, but Luis rode him great. He's a great horse. He's tough.
"I walked the course this morning and I thought the rail was pretty good. The turf was actually pretty good, surprisingly. I just thought, stick on the fence as long as you can, and on the turn for home angle him out and get a clear run. That's what he did."
Pender Harbour, who ended a three-race losing streak in the Prince of Wales, improved his career mark to 4-0-1 in eight starts with earnings of $851,797. The Breeders' victory was worth $305,700.
Under equal weights of 126 pounds, Pender Harbour paid $6.20, $4.50, and $3.20. Crown's Path, at 24-1, returned $18.30 and $10 and rounded out a $127.10 exacta. Celtic Conviction paid $4 to show.
"I couldn't have drawn up a better trip, except for the little infraction down the lane," Campbell said of his trip on Crown's Path. "Celtic Conviction was getting tired and was on his wrong lead and he drifted out."
Campbell gave credit where credit was due. "(Pender Harbour) ran a tremendous race. He handled the course, he handled the distance. I'm happy I was second."
Hippolytus, who along with Pender Harbour was the only other horse to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown, was nosed for third. Then came Stunning Split, Seawatch, Delawana, Control, Born to Boogie, Blackstone Bay, Runaway Whiz, Diego Bay, and Molinaro Remarks.