Arravale, Canada's Horse of the Year in 2006, makes her long awaited seasonal debut Sunday at Woodbine in the $300,000 Dance Smartly Stakes (Can-II).
The Dance Smartly, at about nine furlongs over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, has attracted a select field of six fillies and mares.
Robert Costigan's 4-year-old Arravale will carry top weight of 124 pounds, giving away up to 11 pounds to her rivals. Trainer Mac Benson knows it won't be easy.
"She hasn't run for nine months," said Benson. "It's a tough spot where you're giving weight to everybody, then going a mile and an eighth first crack out of the box. You're certainly not getting any edge."
Arravale was training in the spring, preparing for the June 2 Nassau Stakes (Can-II) at Woodbine. However, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Arch suffered a setback in early May.
"She popped a splint, so we had to take care of that before we could go any further," explained Benson. That put his star filly on the shelf for five weeks. She had worked five furlongs on May 5, but didn't show up again on the work tab until June 20. She's drilled steadily since then, including a seven furlong breeze over the turf training track last Sunday in 1:27 4/5 seconds.
Benson said Arravale is a stronger filly this year. He expects her to be forwardly placed. "I just hope she's not too rank."
Benson declined to discuss future plans for Arravale, at least not at the moment. "A lot depends on how she runs and how she comes back."
He said one likely spot, the $1-million E.P. Taylor Stakes (Can-I) at Woodbine on Oct. 21, "is a long ways off."
Arravale, under regular rider Jose Valdivia Jr., stormed to victory in the E.P. Taylor last fall, capping a magnificent season that saw her also win the Alywow Stakes at Woodbine, then the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) in August. For the year, she banked more than $970,000 and snagged top filly or mare turf honors in Canada in addition to her Sovereign Award as Horse of the Year.
"That was the biggest thrill of my life," said the 77-year-old Benson, speaking about Arravale's win in the E.P. Taylor. Benson came to Ontario from Maryland in 1976 as the private trainer for Taylor, one of Canada's best known industrialists and the force behind the building of Woodbine.
Among the challengers to Arravale are invaders Masseuse and May Night. The Jimmy Toner-trained Masseuse arrives from New York after finishing second to Makderah in the New York Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park June 23. The 5-year-old daughter of Dynaformer earlier scored in the Beaugay Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Aqueduct in April.
Edgar Prado, who will also pilot favored Sky Conqueror in the featured $700,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) later on the card, has the mount.
May Night, who shipped up from Kentucky last month to contest the Nassau Stakes, finishing second to Strike Softly, has returned for trained Fred Seitz. Robert Landry will guide the 4-year-old daughter of Gulch who most recently finished sixth to Silver Charades in the All Along Breeders' Cup (gr. IIIT) at Colonial Downs on June 16.
Completing the Dance Smartly line-up are locals Elle Runaway, Essential Edge, and Scarlet Butterfly.
$300,000 Dance Smartly Stakes (Can-II, Race 6, 3:31 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, About 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. May Night (FL), Robert C. Landry, 113, 8/1
2. Elle Runaway (KY), Garrett K. Gomez, 113, 10/1
3. Arravale (KY), Jose Valdivia Jr., 124, 4/5
4. Essential Edge (ON), Emma-Jayne Wilson, 117, 6/1
5. Scarlet Butterfly (ON), Garry Cruise, 113, 8/1
6. Masseuse (KY), Edgar S. Prado, 119, 4/1