Signature Red won the Highlander in 2010 and 2011 (shown).

Signature Red won the Highlander in 2010 and 2011 (shown).

Michael Burns

Two-Time Highlander Winner in Deep This Time

Signature Red defends title against strong field on Queen's Plate card at Woodbine.

Signature Red , whose only two victories since July 2010 have come in the Highlander Stakes (Can-IIIT), is back to defend his title for a second time in the $200,000 grass event at Woodbine June 23.

The 6-year-old son of Bernstein won last year's Highlander in a head-bob by a nose over favored Fiddlers Patriot, who is also back to contest the six-furlong event. In all, 10 are entered for this year's race, which is the fifth on the Queen's Plate program with a scheduled post time of 1:59 p.m. EDT.

Luis Contreras has the mount on Signature Red, who has lost seven consecutive races since the 2011 Highlander. The Kentucky-bred bay horse, trained by Sid Attard for Norsemen Racing, had also lost seven straight leading up to last year's Highlander.

After springing a 6-1 upset last year, Signature Red figures to be a longer price this time around while toting co-high weight of 123 pounds. In his most recent start, Signature Red split a field of 11 after prompting the pace in Woodbine's seven-furlong Connaught Cup (Can-IIIT) on the grass May 27. He is 15-1 on the morning line.

Fiddlers Patriot, who rallied four wide to just miss in last year's Highlander as the 5-2 choice, draws the rail this time after breaking from the far outside in 2011. Trained by George Weaver for James F. Olson and R. A. Hill Stable, the New York-bred 6-year-old Proud Citizen gelding is coming off a 2 1/4-length tally in the five-furlong Turf Sprint at Pimlico Racecourse May 18. Julien Leparoux accepted the mount for the first time on the 3-1 morning line second choice, replacing the injured John Velazquez.

The early favorite at 5-2 is Gypsy Ring, who comes off back-to-back victories in restricted stakes at Woodbine on the Polytrack. Owned, bred, and trained by Paul Buttigieg, the 6-year-old gelding by Where's the Ring is no stranger to the Woodbine grass course. He has won three of seven tries while finishing in the money in all but one, losing last fall's Nearctic Stakes (Can-IT) by a neck when third. Justin Stein is the regular rider.

Essence Hit Man, who has started only twice on grass during a 20-race career, brings a three-race win streak into the Highlander for Audre and Gordon Cappuccitti. The 5-year-old son of Speightstown  has rattled off consecutive wins in the Kennedy Road (Can-III), Vigil (Can-III), and Jacques Cartier stakes over Woodbine's Polytrack.

Artic Fern, third in the Connaught Cup, former Canadian Horse of the Year Fatal Bullet, and Irish-bred Surfrider, a recent French import that scored a powerful 4 1/4-length allowance win at Belmont Park June 3 for trainer Eddie Kenneally, are all part of a deep field.

$200,000 Highlander Stakes (Can-IIT, Race 5, 1:59 p.m.), 3 & Up, 6 Furlongs (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Fiddlers Patriot (NY), J R Leparoux, 119, G Weaver
2. Bear Tough Tiger (FL), E Wilson, 117, R Baker
3. Stormy Rush (KY), P Husbands, 117, R L Attfield
4. Artic Fern (ON), T Kabel, 119, M Keogh
5. Signature Red (KY), L Contreras, 123, S C Attard
6. Smokey Fire (ON), E R Da Silva, 123, S C Attard
7. Essence Hit Man (ON), J M Campbell, 121, A Cappuccitti
8. Fatal Bullet (FL), E Wilson, 117, R Baker
9. Gypsy Ring (ON), J Stein, 119, P M Buttigieg
10. Surfrider (IRE), R A Dominguez, 121, E Kenneally