Big Question for Soaring Free in Play the King

(from Woodbine report)
Soaring Free goes for his third victory in the $230,800 Play the King Handicap (Can-II) and a tenth career win over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course on Saturday at Woodbine.

Canada's reigning Horse of the Year entered the seven-furlong event last year riding a three-race winning streak. This summer, the Smart Strike gelding's flight path has been more turbulent. He finished second, a half-length behind Awesome Action, in his Play the King prep, the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes on July 24.

"He had an excuse," says Frostad. "He displaced (his palate) and entrapped his epiglottis. The next morning, it was clear so we didn't do an operation on it. He's been fine since. Hopefully, it's a one-time deal. He was certainly impaired."

Frostad says the 6-year-old earner of $2,138,270 had never had a breathing problem before.

"He probably got too excited," Frostad said. "It usually happens when you take a serious hold on them."

For his legion of fans that have come to expect greatness and fans that bet him down to 15 cents on the dollar, the result was a shocker. The 2004 Atto Mile winner (Can-I) had shined in his previous performances, fighting off several challengers in a gritty Shakertown (gr. IIIT) win in at Keeneland in April and subduing his rivals with a sharp middle move in the Highlander (Can-III), on June 26.

Soaring Free, who will be ridden by Todd Kabel, is the 125-pound high weight in the Play the King, which has attracted 12 other entrants, including runners from New York, Chicago and Great Britain.

"We're giving a lot of weight away to some really nice horses," says Frostad. "Hopefully he can overcome it."

British invader Vanderlin is one of those set to tackle Soaring Free.

Vanderlin, a gelded son of Halling, makes his Canadian debut in a key prep race on the road to the $1 million Atto Mile, to be run on Sept. 18 at the Toronto oval.

The 6-year-old, to be ridden by Martin Dwyer and handled by trainer Andrew Balding – the duo who teamed to take the 2003 Pattison Canadian International (Can-I) with Phoenix Reach – comes into the race off an eighth-place finish in the Lennox Stakes (Eng-II) at Goodwood in England.

"If we get on this Saturday, we would certainly consider running him in the Atto Mile," said Balding, from his office in England. "He's a pretty reliable sort and he's had a good excuse for every bad race he's run.

"Two starts ago, he finished second at Chester to a horse that broke the track record. It was an excellent effort and he seems to be in good form."

Dwyer has not been aboard the British-bred in his past three starts, but did partner with Vanderlin for three consecutive races prior to a disappointing 14th-place showing on June 15.

"Vanderlin's a seven-furlong specialist and I would imagine there will be some early speed in this race," offered Balding. "We'd like to see him sit just off the pace, use his good tactical speed and hopefully, be there at the end."

Balding said he will not travel to Woodbine to saddle his five-time winner and career earner of $242,270.

The field also includes Frank's Selection, who finished second at 40-1 in last year's Play the King; Fort Prado, a winner of four consecutive races; Old Forester, who finished second to the highly-regarded Kitten's Joy two starts ago; and local main track speedster, Ministers Wild Cat, who tests turf for the second time in his career.

$230,800 Play the King Handicap (Can-II), 3 & up, 7 furlongs (turf)
PP / Horse / Trainer / Jockey
1 / Vanderlin / Andrew Balding / Martin Dwyer
2 / Frank's Selection / Robert Griem / Constant Montpellier
3 / Fort Prado / Chris Block / Brice Blanc
4 / Old Forester / Bill Mott / Herberto Castillo Jr.
5 / I Thee Wed / David Bell / Jono Jones
6 / Awesome Action / Sue Leslie / Robert Landry
7 / Le Cinquieme Essai / Paul Nielsen / Steve Bahen
8 / My Lucky Strike / Lorne Richards / Jim McAleney
9 / Blakelock / George Weaver / Emile Ramsammy
10 / Dalavin / Audre Cappuccitti / Patrick Husbands
11 / All Star Lover / Peter Berringer / Emma-Jayne Wilson
12 / Soaring Free / Mark Frostad / Todd Kabel
13 / Ministers Wild Cat / Scott Fairlie / Dino Luciani