Soaring Free became the first favorite to win the Atto Mile (Can-I) Sunday, avenging his only loss in nine career starts at Woodbine in last year's edition of the $1 million race.
The Sam-Son Farm owned and bred 5-year-old Smart Strike
gelding set a stakes mark for the eight-year-old Atto of 1:32.72 on firm turf. Leading Woodbine jockey Todd Kabel won his first Atto Mile for trainer Mark Frostad.
Breaking on top from the extreme outside in the field of 11 that lined up for the one-turn event, Soaring Free exchanged the lead with Royal Regalia through an opening quarter mile of :23 2/5. Soaring Free assumed the lead for good coming to the head of the stretch after completing the mid-point in :46 and three-quarters in 1:09. He held on through the long stretch run while challenged by the hard-closing Perfect Soul and stubborn Royal Regalia.
"It's a tremendous feat, it's nice to be part of the Samuel team," said Kabel, Woodbine's leading rider and runaway stakes leader with 29 wins. "I know (the late) Mr. Samuel and my (late) father (Alex) above were kicking (Soaring Free) in the butt down the lane. I'm sure that's what bought us the victory."
Kabel said he expected a faster pace but since no one wanted the lead, he was able to dictate the race from the outside.
"He's a lot more mature this year. He's not getting excited in the races like he was last year. This year, he's just all business, lets you do whatever you want with him. Like I said, he was just all horse today."
Perfect Soul trailed early while unhurried until late on the turn and rallied under steady pressure from Corey Nakatani.
"He fired," said Nakatani. "I thought there would be a little more pace in there to set it up for me. It didn't happen. I just let him make his run like you trust him to do. (The winner) just got away further than I would have liked him."
Soaring Free finished three-quarters of a length in front. Perfect Soul nipped Royal Regalia and Jono Jones for second by a head. Mobil, who stalked the pace for Patrick Husbands, evened out in the stretch and finished fifth. Millennium Dragon, also stalking the leaders, was in position while three deep on the turn and tired.
Soaring Free has won eight of nine in his career at Woodbine, finishing second in last year's Atto by half-length to Touch of the Blues. Stuck four wide on the sweeping Woodbine turn last year, Soaring Free was unlucky to lose that one.
Last year, Soaring Free earned top sprinter honors in Canada, taking five of eight races to go with his Atto runner-up placing. This year, though, the dark bay/brown gelding seemed even better. He set a North American record for seven furlongs, a 1:19.38 clocking, in the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes in July.
Sunday, the Ontario-bred carried 119 pounds and was actually receiving two pounds from Perfect Soul and seventh-place finisher Slew Valley.
The gelding has won six times in seven starts this year, including five in a row (all at Woodbine), and has earned more than $1 million. Fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita, he sports a lifetime record of 13-3-0 in 21 outings and winnings of $1,821,784.
He'll likely head next to the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Lone Star Park in Texas Oct. 30.
"If he comes out of the race in good order and trains on well, that will be his next start," said Frostad, who teamed with Sam-Son for their second Atto win.
"He (Soaring Free) is a sentimental favorite and a barn favorite and he gives you 110% and you can't ask for anything more," said co-owner Tammy Samuel-Balaz. "(At the top of the stretch, I was saying) look out Todd, look out. But Todd had it all, he gave an awesome, awesome ride and as Todd said, 'Mark and the gang had him so ready for it.' We know we can count on Soaring Free, he's one tough horse."
The 2-1 choice paid $6.30, $3.20 and $2.70. Perfect Soul, the second favorite in the field at 7-2, returned $4.20 and $3.30. Royal Regalia's show was $4.50. The exacta was worth $27.20.
It was 1 1/4 lengths back to fourth-place finisher Surging River, who was followed by Mobil, Kathir, Slew Valley, Dumaani Star, third choice Millennium Dragon, Christine's Outlaw and My Lucky Strike.
Total handle for Woodbine's Atto Mile card was $4,476,623 with $1,498,596 wagered on the race itself.