Never Retreat

Never Retreat

Keeneland/Coady Photography

Never Retreat Canada's Horse of the Year

The mare owned by Team Block beat out two top 3-year-olds to win the award

by Alex Campbell

Team Block’s Never Retreat narrowly beat out a pair of 3-year old champions in Inglorious and Pender Harbour to be named Canada’s Horse of the Year for 2011 at the 37th Sovereign Awards held at Woodbine the evening of April 5.

Never Retreat recorded 78 points in the voting for Horse of the Year, two more than Inglorious, who finished second. She also beat out Glen Hill Farm’s Marketing Mix and Waratah Thoroughbreds’ Miss Keller to win champion turf female. Never Retreat was the only horse to win two awards at the event.

“I can hardly imagine the thought that we were going to do something like this with our great filly at the start of 2011,” owner Dave Block said. “We’re standing on the platform at one of the most prestigious racecourses in this world and we, Team Block, are tremendously humble.”

Never Retreat made three starts at Woodbine in 2011, the minimum number of starts horses are required to make in Canada to be considered for an award. She won a pair of grade II events, the Dance Smartly Stakes and Canadian Stakes, and finished second in the grade II Nassau Stakes.

“At the end of her 2010 racing (season) she was turning six,” Block said. “We had to decide, ‘Do we want to run her again in 2011 or do we want to retire her and breed her?’ In the back of our minds was this beautiful turf course at Woodbine, the one-turn which she absolutely loved, so we decided we’d give her some time off and concentrate on coming back here to Woodbine and continue with the fine run we had starting in 2010.”

Along with Team Block, Donver Stable also had a big night at the Sovereign Awards. The stable’s top runner, Inglorious, was named champion 3-year-old filly after a campaign that saw her become just the fifth filly to complete the Woodbine Oaks-Queen’s Plate double.

The stable also earned a share of the outstanding owner award with the British Columbia-based pair of Glen Todd and Patrick Kinsella. It was the first time ever there had been a tie for outstanding owner at the Sovereign Awards.

“(Inglorious) is a pretty special horse for us,” said Vern Dubinsky, who owns Donver Stable along with his wife, Donna. “(Trainer) Josie Carroll has done such a great job with this horse. She knew she was right for the Plate that day.”

After record-breaking performances in 2011, trainer Mark Casse and jockey Luis Contreras took home awards in their respective categories. Casse, who earned his fourth Sovereign Award, broke Frank Passero Jr.’s Woodbine training record with 119 wins in 2011, while Contreras set a Woodbine record with more than $11 million in purse earnings last season.

Contreras, who won his first Sovereign Award, won every leg of the Canadian Triple Crown on the two 3-year-old champions in 2011, riding Inglorious in the Queen’s Plate and Pender Harbour in the Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes.

A little more than a week after the passing of farm manager Dr. Michael Colterjohn, Gardiner Farms was named the country’s top breeder for 2011. The farm bred Pender Harbour, who was named champion 3-year-old male over Freedoms Traveller and Moonshine Mullin.

Ontario-bred colt Maritimer, who ran 12th in the UAE Derby (UAE-I) March 31 at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai after being sold privately in January, was named champion 2-year-old colt. He won three races in six starts in 2011, including two stakes: the Coronation Futurity and the Display Stakes.

Two-year old filly champion Tu Endie Wei ran exclusively in stakes last season and was undefeated on Woodbine’s Polytrack in three starts, winning the My Dear Stakes, the Ontario Debutante Stakes, and the Glorious Song Stakes. Tu Endie Wei is a half-sister to 2010 Canadian Horse of the Year Biofuel.

Fifty Proof was named champion older male despite having his campaign cut short after four starts due to a suspensory injury. He won the Eclipse Stakes (Can-III) and finished second in a pair of Canadian grade II turf races, the King Edward Stakes and the Nijinsky Stakes.

Fares Farm’s, Embur's Song was honored as champion older female after she reeled off a four-race winning streak that included victories in the Hendrie Stakes and Ontario Matron Stakes (both Can-III) at Woodbine.

Ten-year old gelding Musketier  was named champion turf male over Pender Harbour and Stormy Lord. Musketier won the Singspiel Stakes (Can-III) for the second time in his career in 2011, his lone victory in three graded stakes starts at Woodbine.

Essence Hit Man and Atlantic Hurricane were named champion male sprinter and champion female sprinter, respectively. Essence Hit Man secured victories in his season opener in the Jacques Cartier Stakes and in his final start of the 2011 season in the Kennedy Road Stakes (Can-III).

Atlantic Hurricane, meanwhile, began her campaign running for a $40,000 claiming tag, and in just three starts after being claimed by trainer Stuart Simon won the Seaway Stakes (Can-III). In all, she won six of her eight starts in 2011.

Ryan Pacheco was named outstanding apprentice jockey after being named a finalist in the same category last year. He won 33 races and recorded purse earnings of more than $1 million as an apprentice jockey at Woodbine last year.

Noble Strike, dam of Inglorious and Florida Oaks winner Dixie Strike, was named outstanding broodmare. The stakes-winning daughter of Smart Strike, previously owned by Arosa Farms, was sold at the Keeneland 2011 November sale to Rhianon Farms of Santa Rosa, Calif., for $180,000.

Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association president Sue Leslie was honored with a special Sovereign Award, recognizing her lifetime work in the Thoroughbred horse racing industry. Leslie has worked tirelessly in recent weeks to help the Ontario horse racing industry, which has been caught off guard by the provincial government’s announcement that it will be ending the slots-at-racetracks program next year.

“I’m extremely humbled and so proud of our industry,” Leslie said. “The fight is long from over, but we won’t stop fighting, and I’m sure at the end of the day, with the many people that are leading this charge, we’ll survive and come out of it stronger than we ever were before.”

In the media categories, writers Beverley Smith and Jennifer Morrison each won one award. Smith earned the outstanding news story award for her piece “Rahy’s Attorney Goes Out as a Contender,” published in the Globe and Mail newspaper. Morrison’s piece on Inglorious, called “Glorification,” appeared in Canadian Thoroughbred magazine and was named outstandinfgfeature story.

Dave Landry’s photo “Filly Wins! Oaks and Plate,” which also appeared in Canadian Thoroughbred, was named outstanding photograph, while Tommy Wolski’s television show “Sport of Kings” was named outstanding film/video/broadcast.