Back home at rainy Woodbine, Canadian Horse of the Year Up With the Birds found his missing explosive kick to win the $220,229 Nijinsky Stakes (gr. IIT) going away July 19 on the turf (VIDEO).
After two subpar efforts to begin the season, Sam-Son Farm's homebred son of Stormy Atlantic rallied from last off the turn to swoop to a smashing four-length win while completing the one-turn, 1 1/8-mile test in a swift 1:45.74 on firm going.
Trained by Malcolm Pierce, 4-year-old Up With the Birds is now 2-for-2 over the Woodbine turf after earlier taking the Breeders' Stakes, the final jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown last August. Up With the Birds also captured the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) in October at Belmont Park and ran second in the Queen's Plate on Polytrack en route to post-season honors. He won four of six starts with two seconds in 2013, earning nearly $1 million.
Eurico Rosa Da Silva, who rode Up With the Birds to victory in the Breeders' the last time they were teamed, was again aboard Saturday. Dynamic Sky rallied along the inside to take second by three-quarters of a length, with stalking River Seven third. Favored Za Approval ranged into contention in upper stretch but weakened to finish fifth at odds of 3-2 in the seven-horse field.
Up With the Birds, toting top weight of 123 pounds, was sent off at odds of 7-2 and paid $9, $3.90, and $4.10 as the third choice. Dynamic Sky, off at odds of 24-1, returned $10.90 and $4.90 while rounding out a $99.60 exacta. River Seven paid $4 to show. Dorsett was fourth, followed by Za Approval, Five Iron, and Really Sharp.
Da Silva was happy to see Up With the Birds relax early.
"I want to see him very confident in himself," he said "Even more (lengths) back it doesn't matter, I just want him to be very comfortable with his stride, because I know when he turns, he comes very strong. In the stretch, I didn't even make him run. I just let him be happy and he was happy stretching out."
Really Sharp and Five Iron vied for command while carving fractions of :23.83, :46.23, and 1:09.94 and pulling four lengths clear of River Seven and Dorsett up the backstretch. Up With the Birds trailed from the outset while maintaining contact with the field, and raced last around the turn as the field closed up while racing in 2x2x2 fashion.
Angled out for the drive by Da Silva, the strapping bay colt found a slot between Za Approval and Dorsett on the outside of the rest of the field. Squeezing through the opening, Up With the Birds assumed command to lead by 1 1/2 lengths mid-stretch and drew off under a hand ride.
Dynamic Sky found room at the rail to charge home second under Patrick Husbands, with River Seven, ridden by Jesse Campbell, settling for third.
Up With the Birds returned to form in his third start of the year. He was favored in his first two but was sixth each time, including the Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) May 17 on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico Race Course.
Given a freshening since the Dixie, Up With the Birds has been working solidly over the Woodbine turf training track in recent weeks. His most recent drill, a five-furlong breeze July 11, was timed in 1:00 3/5, fastest of 17 at the distance on the morning.
"He's had a couple of really good works coming into this race," said Pierce. "He's in good order and when you have a good horse right, they're dangerous."
The first foal of his dam, the winning Seeking the Gold mare Song of the Lark, Up With Birds improved his career mark to 7-2-1 from 12 starts with earnings of $1,286,409.
The winning William Sorokolit homebred, trained by Darwin Banach, was making her turf debut in the one-turn mile with Da Silva in the irons. It was the second career stakes score for the Sky Conqueror chestnut, having notched a victory in September's Victorian Queen Stakes at Woodbine.
Skylander Girl took over from Fancy Ribbons at the top of the lane, but could not hold off a determined stretch run from Regal Conqueror who prevailed in a final running time of 1:34.11. Skylander Girl held for place over Fancy Ribbons. The favored Llanarmon never got untracked, finishing fifth at 1-2 odds.