Rich Meadow Farm's Slew Valley, with Jim McAleney aboard, outbattled Le Cinquieme Essai and favored Shoal Water down the stretch to capture the $164,400 Connaught Cup (Can-III) Sunday at Woodbine.The Connaught, the first turf stakes race of the 2004 campaign, over 1 1/16 miles on the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, went postward with six horses, after the morning scratch of Tusayan. In an all-out scrap to the wire, 7-year-old Slew Valley was able to maintain a slight margin over 2002 Prince of Wales winner Le Cinquieme Essai, posting a nose triumph at the wire in a blistering 1:40.24. Shoal Water wound up third, three-quarters of a length behind."He just ran a tremendous race today," said McAleney of Slew Valley "He's a fighter, a big-time fighter. He had to get tough the last part of the race. We had tactical position. When you can do that with a horse with that much fight in him, you're going to win. If you looked at his form, I thought he deserved a ton of respect going into this race. I thought we were the horse to beat and it turned out that way."Sam-Son Farm's Shoal Water, the 4-5 choice, was trying to win a third straight Connaught for his connections, after wins by Quiet Resolve in 2002 and Fly Smartly in 2003. With Todd Kabel aboard, Shoal Water went immediately to the front, posting reasonable fractions of :24.02 for the quarter and :47.19 for the half-mile. However, things heated up around the far turn as Slew Valley joined the pacesetter on the outside and Le Cinquieme Essai in the middle. They straightened away for the long stretch run after getting six furlongs in 1:10.37.Slew Valley has battled in a number of grade I stakes the last two years, including a second-place finish to Lunar Sovereign in last year's Man O'War at Belmont Park and an earlier third-place finish to Whitmore's Conn in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. He's also been to Woodbine before. Three years ago, he was fifth to Numerous Times in Woodbine's Atto Mile (Can-I), then 10th to Mutamam in the Canadian International (Can-I).He'd won one of his four starts this year for trainer Gary Sciacca, before being shipped to Woodbine in mid-May from New York to the care of conditioner Reade Baker.
"I was lucky," said Baker. "He was in good shape when I got him. They (the owners) wanted to go through a campaign here. We've got a great grass series here. I don't think he was fit enough today. I think we can do a better job with him and get him to run better in the King Edward."The $300,000 King Edward Breeders' Cup, at one and one-eighth miles on the lawn, will be contested at Woodbine on June 19.With the winner's share of $98,640, Slew Valley went over the half-million dollar mark in career earnings, now at $567,460.Slew Valley paid $5.90, $4.10 and $2.70, combining with Le Cinquieme Essai ($5.60, $2.70) for a $34.70 exacta. Shoal Water ($2.10) completed a $63.40 exacta.(Chart, Equibase)