The script for the $490,400 Woodbine Oaks (VIDEO) Presented by Budweiser had a happy ending for Chiefswood Stable and its homebred filly Nipissing after she denied favored Spring in the Air with a late surge June 9 at Woodbine.
Nipissing was one of two entered by Chiefswood Stable in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack test for 3-year-old fillies. The other, Original Script, led until deep stretch but was tiring as she came under heavy pressure from 7-5 pick Spring in the Air, the 2-year-old filly champion in Canada last year.
But also surging between them was second choice Nipissing, with Steve Bahen aboard, taking the lead in deep stretch and holding on well in the final strides. Spring in the Air, ridden by leading North American jockey Joel Rosario, was second by three-quarters of a length over Original Script. The final time was 1:50.34, which was slightly faster than the 1:50.59 Dynamic Sky turned in while winning the Plate Trial Stakes a race earlier .
Trained by Rachel Halden, the bay daughter of Chiefswood's 2004 Queen's Plate winner Niigon has been mentioned herself as a candidate for the Queen's Plate July 7. Nipissing became the first Woodbine Oaks winner since Avowal in 1982 to be sired by a Queen's Plate victor.
The Princess Elizabeth victress at 2 when she won all four of her starts, Nipissing won for the first time in three tries this year. She began the season with a sixth in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland April 6 and was second in the Selene Stakes (Can-III) back at her home track May 19. She is the first Oaks winner for her owner and breeder.
For Bahen, it was his second Oaks triumph, having won the 1996 edition with Silent Fleet.
"Last time (in the Selene) we were a little further back so I was hoping she'd break a little sharper, which she did today," said Bahen, who has been aboard Nipissing in all six previous starts. "I wanted to be three, four lengths off the pace, sit on the outside and give her a clean trip. It worked out perfectly. I heard (Spring in the Air) coming, I said, 'C'mon, wire'. But she ran her eyeballs out and she galloped out strongly like she always does. She's a great horse."
In a field of eight, Nipissing raced in sixth in the early going as the gray filly Original Script went to the front under Jesse Campbell. She set deliberate fractions of :23.89, :48.49, and 1:13.60 while maintaining about a length's advantaged over Tiz Ro with the Sam-Son Farm's duo of Dance Again and Smartyfly jockeying for third.
Nipissing was given her cue by Bahen past the three-eighths pole and she advanced into contention on the outside. She continued to press the issue through the far turn and chased Original Script through the lane. Original Script was tough, leading by two lengths at mid-stretch before weakening late as Nipissing and the deep-closing Spring in the Air rallied. Nipissing had a slight advantage closing in on the wire on the inside of Spring in the Air and would prevail in a determined finish from both fillies.
The victory was the fifth in seven starts for Nipissing, who is out of the unraced Dixieland Band mare Kiche. She has banked $629,043.
Halden is a former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield before going out on her own several years ago.
Following her first Woodbine Oaks win, she said, "It feels great. It just seems such a long time ago that she won the Princess Elizabeth and we started talking about this race. You just hope she stays healthy and everything goes to plan and fortunately it did. And here we are today."
Under equal weights of 121 pounds, Nipissing paid $7.10, $3.40, and $2.50. John Oxley's Spring in the Air, who closed from last after six furlongs, returned $2.70 and $2.40 while completing a $17.20 exacta. Original Script paid $3.70.
Smartyfly was fourth, followed by Dance Again, Pink Trillium, Rutherford Rd, and Tiz Ro.