Eugene Melnyk’s Sealy Hill collared pacesetters Street Sounds and Saskawea in early stretch before pulling away to win Sunday’s CAN$502,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks in a thoroughly dominating performance.
At the finish of the 1 1/8-mile classic, Sealy Hill, an impeccably-bred filly by Point Given out of Boston Twist, had taken the Oaks by a widening 4 1/4 lengths, getting the distance in a quick 1:50.68. Saskawea hung tough for second while the 6-5 favorite, Street Sounds, faded to third, 8 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
It was the first Oaks win for Toronto native Melnyk but marked back-to-back triumphs in the country’s premier race for Canadian-foaled 3-year-old fillies by trainer Mark Casse and jockey Patrick Husbands, who teamed to win last year’s renewal with Kimchi.
The victory by Sealy Hill also capped a phenomenal day at the office for Casse and Husbands. Earlier on the card, the Casse-trained Approval Rating and Skip Code finished one-two in the Victoria Park Stakes, followed by another one-two finish by Casse-trained Silky Smooth and Quiet Action in the Alywow Stakes. Both winners were also ridden by Husbands.
Street Sounds, trained by Michael Matz, went immediately to the front with jockey Ramon Dominguez, as Saskawea and jockey Justin Stein tracked her in second. But the fractions were quick, :23.42 for the quarter, :46.89 for the half and 1:11.09 for six furlongs. Husbands had the Melnyk homebred perfectly placed in third before moving boldly to challenge the leaders approaching the far turn.
Street Sounds continued to cling to the lead turning for home but was quickly devoured by Sealy Hill, the 7-2 second choice, who drew away effortlessly to post the resounding triumph. Melynk’s other Oaks entrant, the Todd Pletcher-trained Belleplaine with jockey John Velazquez, faded early and was distanced. Another Pletcher trainee, Christie’s Treasure, making her Polytrack debut, wound up fourth.
Sealy Hill had come into the Oaks off a disappointing 12th place finish, 26 lengths behind super filly Rags to Riches in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) May 4 at Churchill Downs. Rags to Riches, of course, also defeated her male counterparts in yesterday’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in New York, besting Preakness winner Curlin in a stirring stretch drive.
Last year at Woodbine, Sealy Hill, named for a village in Melnyk’s adopted home, Barbados, won two of her three starts, including a season-ending Glorious Song Stakes canter over Saskawea.
Casse, last year’s Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top trainer, admitted that Sunday’s three stakes wins was a first in his distinguished career. “Yesterday, things changed. I watched Cotton Blossom win the Acorn (at Belmont). She was the filly we had run head and head with in the Kentucky Oaks. She got beat 20 lengths, we got beat. Maybe the pace was just too hot for us that day. I felt pretty confident today. I was smiling and I was happy (with the blazing fractions). This racetrack, you can’t do that. We were sitting a perfect trip. She’s a very good horse. I’ve said it before, I think she’s better than Kimchi was last year and I think she proved it today.”
While Sealy Hill is also eligible for the upcoming Queen’s Plate, Casse indicated it’s doubtful the barn would send her back into the fray on June 24 against the boys, especially when Melynk, Casse and Husbands already have a live hopeful in Marchfield, who finished a closing second to favored Jiggs Coz in the Plate Trial a week ago.
“I was never worried,” said Husbands. “The problem with this filly was to get her to relax. When we ran in the (Kentucky) Oaks, I never got her to relax. I couldn’t even get her to the gate. She never relaxed through the whole race. This past three weeks, all we did was work her behind horses, and staying behind horses. After she relaxed, we knew she could deal with these Canadian horses.”
Not only did Sealy Hill bank CAN$300,000 as the winner’s share for her connections, but she also becomes an early favorite to win a Sovereign Award as the country’s best 3-year-old filly. Kimchi gained that honor last year, as have 20 other Oaks winners since the Sovereigns were introduced in 1976.
The Labatt Woodbine Oaks is the first leg in the filly Triple Tiara. It’s followed by the $250,000 Bison City Stakes on July 1, at 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack, then the $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes July 28 10 furlongs on turf. All races are contested at Woodbine.
Sealy Hill returned $9.70, $5.20 and $3.30, combining with Saskawea ($6, $3.20) for a $46.20 exacta. Street Sounds was $2.50 to show.
Christie’s Treasure was followed by Quiet Jungle, Dance to My Tune, Love You Crazy and Suva. Fuhrleen and Belleplaine tired and did not finish.