Sam-Son Farm's Strut The Stage gave one of his command performances Saturday at Woodbine, capturing the $337,200 Niagara Breeders' Cup Stakes Handicap (Can-II).Carrying the high weight of 123 pounds for the 1 1/2-mile event, Strut The Stage, a 5-year-old son of Theatrical, was sent off the even money choice over nine rivals, including six American ship-ins.But with jockey Todd Kabel patiently biding his time in fifth place early behind pacesetters Mark One and Bowman Mill, Strut The Stage moved four wide to challenge the leaders turning into the long E.P. Taylor Turf Course stretch. After collaring Revved Up and jockey Patrick Husbands inside the eighth pole, the favorite edged away in the closing yards to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:27.13. Revved Up, the second choice at 3-1, hung on for second, while third choice Better Talk Now, with Rene Douglas aboard, in tight around the far turn and through part of the stretch, wound up third, 1 1/2 length further back.It was the second win in only three starts this year for the multiple stakes winner, who came into the Niagara fresh from a solid score over Perfect Soul in the Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes at Woodbine July 20.It was also the second consecutive year that Sam-Son, trainer Mark Frostad and Kabel had teamed to win the Niagara. Last year, the trio did it with Full Of Wonder. Sam-Son and Frostad also won this race three years running from 1996-98, twice with Desert Waves and once with Chief Bearhart. Another Sam-Son runner, Tot Of Rum, took the 1991 renewal of the Niagara."I think we found that (Strut The Stage) likes it a little further," said Frostad. "We were trying to make him into a miler last year, but he was just coming up a little bit short. We've stretched him out and he's responded very well. Todd had him in great position all the way around. He didn't let them get too far away from him and the winning move was a pretty decisive one.""I had a perfect trip the whole race," added Kabel, now with a colony-leading 21 added-money wins on the season. "It was a matter of just getting the distance. I only rode him once before going a mile and a half (the 2001 Canadian International). We had a real rough trip that day. In the back of my mind I wasn't sure if he could get the mile and a half. But he showed today he was all there. He had his game face on.
Sam-Son's other Niagara entrant, Portcullis, last year's Sovereign Award winner, came on to finish fifth.Strut The Stage returned $4.30, $2.80 and $2.30, combining with the Christophe Clement-trained Revved Up ($3.10, $2.40) for a $14.00 exacta. Better Talk Now ($3.50) completed a trifecta paying $45.40.Up next for Strut The Stage, who now has career earnings of over $1.2 million, with today's $202,320 winning purse, could be the $200,000 Sky Classic Handicap Sept. 28 over a 1 3/8 mile, a race he won last year.(Chart, Equibase)