Improving Irish Mission Claims Woodbine Oaks
The imposing filly earned her first stakes victory at odds of 9-1 for owner Robert S. Evans, defeating Northern Passion by three-quarters of a length in the $480,634 event. She ran the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.50, a half-second off the Woodbine Polytrack record set a race earlier by River Rush in the Plate Trial.
Alex Solis, who recently moved his tack to the Toronto oval full time, won his first Woodbine Oaks in his initial try.
Sam-Son Farm bred Irish Mission, who is by Giant's Causeway and out of the Miswaki mare Misty Mission. The chestnut was a $375,000 buy at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select yearling sale in August 2010.
Frostad previously won the Oaks with Catch the Ring (2000), Dancethruthedawn (2001) and Eye of the Sphynx (2004), all for Sam-Son Farm.
As she appears to have no distant limitations, Irish Mission becomes a leading candidate for the $1 million Queen's Plate at 10 furlongs June 24. The filly Inglorious scored the Oaks/Plate double last year.
Dixie Strike, one of the three entrants by trainer Mark Casse in the field of nine Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies, was sent off as the 9-10 favorite. Casse also saddled Northern Passion (2-1) and Black Bird Rock (8-1) in pursuit of his third win in the Oaks.
Irish Mission was always in contention as Black Bird Rock set the pace ahead of 41-1 Horseshoe Hill. Irish Mission, third early, advanced into second after a quarter mile as Black Bird Rock, ridden by Eurico Rosa Da Silva, carved a deliberate tempo (:25.11, :49.79, 1:13.10).
Black Bird Rock maintained the lead into the homestretch but was in deep water along the inside as Irish Mission, Awesome Fire, and Dixie Strike drew alongside approaching the furlong marker. Any of those could have won it, but it was Irish Mission who forged to the front and inched away under a full drive from Solis.
“The way she ran, she had high motion speed, and she could stay the distance," said Solis, who noted that he had worked Irish Mission a couple of times before the Oaks. "We had in mind to keep it close to the pace and soon as we hit the turn, she kept going. She showed determination. The more that I asked her, the more she gave.”
Now her connections will have to decide whether to chase Queen’s Plate glory, letting her try to become just the sixth filly to win both classics. Frostad directed Dancethruthedawn to that elusive double in 2001.
Northern Passion, angled to the outside in the drive by Contreras, got up for second by a head over Awesome Fire and Emma-Jayne Wilson. Black Bird Rock was fourth while Selene Stakes (Can-III) winner Dixie Strike flattened out late for Patirck Husbands and finished fifth.
Irish Mission was coming off a maiden win over the Keeneland turf going 1 3/16 miles April 26. It's taken the big filly, whom Frostad said is nearly 17 hands, to reach her potential. She graduated in her seventh start.
“It’s always a thrill to win this race, it’s a huge race here, and she’s a very nice filly,” Frostad said. “It was a big step up for her. She went from a maiden race to the Oaks. But, she’s been improving all along, and as she’s getting older, she’s got a lot stronger.”
In her only previous stakes try, Irish Mission finished fifth in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes for Canadian-breds at Woodbine in her final start as a 2-year-old last October. Half of her starts have come on the turf. The Oaks win was her first in-the-money finish over Polytrack. She earned $288,150 for the victory, extending her career total to $334,718.
"She has been doing very well, she’s a great big filly, and it’s taking her a while to develop,” said owner Evans. “Mark Frostad has been doing a wonderful job training her. He said all along she was an Oaks filly, and sure enough she was. He advised me to buy her as a yearling in Saratoga, and I did. We might come back in the Queen’s Plate, if she comes out of this race well, but, it looks pretty tough, though.”
Under equal weights of 121 pounds, Irish Mission paid $20.50, $7.50, and $8.80 while topping an $86.80 exacta. Second choice Northern Passion returned $4.30 and $5.30. Awesome Fire, sent off at 35-1, paid $17.10 to show. The show prices were inflated by heavy wagering in that pool on Dixie Strike.
The Oaks is the opening leg of the Woodbine's filly Triple Tiara, which also consists of the $250,000 Bison City Stakes July 1 and the $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes on grass July 29.
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