Chopinina Wins First Stakes in Royal North

Chopinina, last year's Sovereign Award-winning turf filly, is no longer a bridesmaid after winning Saturday's $219,050 Royal North Handicap (Can-III) on the turf for her first career stakes victory.

The 5-year-old gray daughter of Lear Fan powered her way to a 2 1/2-length score over Alpha Heat in the six-furlong event.

Sent off the 3-2 favorite with Todd Kabel aboard, Chopinina came five-wide off the far turn, took a brief lead in mid-stretch, was headed by Alpha Heat and rider Jim McAleney, then pulled away before the finish. The time over a turf course listed as "soft" from day-long rains, was 1:12.19.

Last year, the Knob Hill Stable (Steve Stavro) homebred won two of her four starts, but it was her second-place effort to Good Journey in the $1-million Atto Mile (Can-I) which cemented her claim as Canada's best turf filly or mare.

This year, she was winless in two starts, opening her season with a runner-up placing in the Nassau Stakes, June 1 before fading to sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Dance Smartly on July 5.

"It's very nice to win a stake with this filly," said trainer Alec Fehr. "We were worried about the shorter distance and the rain today, but we have a nice horse here and we're happy with this. That's a good race for her. We're going to decide in about a week (what her next start might be). We might try the Atto Mile again."

Mille Feville, Leading Role and Mysterious Affair locked horns early, taking the field through an opening quarter in 23 seconds flat. But Chopinina, a close fourth on the outside, was poised to pounce and Kabel eventually moved her to challenge as the field straightened away for the long stretch drive. She proved best down the lane, even after Alpha Heat had split horses and had come to her flank.

"Once I asked her to kick on, I had to keep pretty busy on her," Kabel said. "She was loafing with me, but she ran a strong race today. This is a nice filly. She showed it in the past. I guess our biggest concern today was the turf, being soft, but she handled it and she ran well. (Alpha Heat) came to me and my filly wasn't running all out with me. I just had to get to work on her really hard and make her pay attention. I thought we were going to have a head-and-head battle, but my filly dug in harder and started drawing off."

It was Kabel's Woodbine-leading 15th stakes win this year.

Chopinina picked up $131,430 to push her career bankroll to more than $580,000. She paid $5.10, $3.30 and $2.30, combining with second choice Alpha Heat (2.90, $2.50) for a $14.30 exacta. Leading Role ($3 to show) completed a trifecta of $45.60.

(Chart, Equibase)