Pender Harbour, last year's 3-year-old Canadian champion, takes an undefeated record on the Woodbine turf course into the $300,000 Nijinsky Stakes (Can-IIT) July 22.
The Mike DePaulo trainee faces five tough customers in the 1 1/8-mile test over the Toronto track's sprawling turf course. Last year, Pender Harbour won both the Breeders' Stakes, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, and the Bunty Lawless over the course. Both races were on soft going.
"He's doing super," said DePaulo. "We're looking forward to running him. There's a horse that's dead fit and now he's caught up to his peers, as far as fitness goes, and we're looking for a big race."
Pender Harbour has won the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown series, on dirt, and also captured two stakes over Woodbine's Polytrack in addition to a third-place finish in the Queen's Plate. But DePaulo says he's not sure what surface the 4-year-old Philanthropist gelding is best over.
"The answer would be, 'No'," laughed DePaulo. "Both times he went on grass, it was soft. He's never run on a firm course. He's one of the few horses that's won on the Poly, dirt, and grass, but I think a mile and an eighth, one-turn, is well within his reach."
A tough field awaits Pender Harbour in the Nijinsky, which is the eight race on the program with a 4:39 p.m. EDT probable post. The Sunday card also includes the $150,000 Ontario Matron (Can-III) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
The 123-pound high weight is Riding the River, upset winner of the one-mile King Edward Stakes Presented by TVG (Can-IIT) last month. The others are local stakes winners Hotep, Kara's Orientation, and Hollinger, and the New York invader Imagining .
Owned by a partnership that includes Robert Griffin, the Ontario-bred Pender Harbour is coming off a runner-up finish in the Dominion Day Stakes (Can-III) at 1 1/4 miles July 1 over the Polytrack. Leading in the stretch, the big chestnut dueled gamely with Hunters Bay before yielding late to lose by one length.
Pender Harbour, with six wins in 14 lifetime starts, has banked $1,092,887. Luis Contreras is once again aboard.
Riding the River, a 5-year-old by Wiseman's Ferry, successfully stretched out to a mile in the King Edward, winning in come-from-behind style by a neck at odds of 13-1 for trainer David Cotey. He'll be trying nine furlongs for the first time with Todd Kabel once again in the irons. Riding the River, a Kentucky-bred bay gelding owned by Dominion Bloodstock and partners, ended an eight-race losing streak in the King Edward.
Hollinger finished third in the June 24 King Edward, beaten by a little more than a neck in a blanket finish. The 5-year-old Black Minnaloushe gelding had been knocking at the door in stakes races in Florida earlier this year, finishing second in both the Ft. Lauderdale (gr. IIT) and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT) for trainer Roger Attfield. However, after winning all four of his races as a juvenile in 2009, the gray/roan gelding has just one win in 15 races since.
Speedy Kara's Orientation is seeking his first win since a stunning front-running effort in the Sky Classic (Can-IIT) on a good Woodbine turf course last August. The 5-year-old by Orientate, a $20,000 claim by trainer Steve Chircop in May 2010, is always a threat to take the field all the way. Kara's Orientation comes into the race off a game third to Hotep in an allowance/optional claiming race at one mile on the turf June 16.
"They went three-quarters in 1:08 and change, and obviously that wasn't ideal for him, especially being on the inside," Chircop said. "(Stunning Stag) went right by him and he dug back in and came back. It was a decent race. I needed to put him in a race where he could get some confidence back and I think he accomplished that."
Kara's Orientation put in a career-best effort in the Sky Classic, opening up a 17-length advantage and winning in a drive by 2 1/4 lengths over Smart Bid. He has lost six in a row since.
Sam-Son Farms' homebred Hotep was runner-up in the 2010 Queen's Plate. His win last time for trainer Malcolm Pierce was the 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy's first since taking the Mobil Stakes at Woodbine in October of his sophomore campaign.
Imagining, a Phipps Stable homebred trained by Shug McGaughey, has won both of his starts this year as an odd-son favorite over the Belmont Park inner turf course. The 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt makes his first stakes appearance since running second to Ultimate Eagle in the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) last November. The lightly raced chestnut has three wins and three seconds in seven starts. Eddie Castro will ride Imagining for the first time.
$300,000 Nijinsky Stakes (Can-IIT, Race 8, 4:39 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Imagining (KY), E Castro, 117, C R McGaughey III
2. Hotep (ON), P Husbands, 117, M Pierce
3. Pender Harbour (ON), L Contreras, 119, M P De Paulo
4. Riding the River (KY), T Kabel, 123, D Cotey
5. Kara's Orientation (KY), J M Campbell, 121, S Chircop
6. Hollinger (ON), T Pizarro, 122, R L Attfield