Trainer Mark Frostad and jockey Todd Kabel shared a few reservations heading into Saturday's $173,550 Connaught Cup (Can-IIIT) at Woodbine, but Fly Smartly surprised them both with a strong performance in winning over a "soft" E.P. Taylor Turf Course."I thought it was a wide-open race and I'm very pleased that he ran as well as he did," said Frostad, of the Ontario-bred son of Smart Strike. "It looked like a pretty tough race and I wasn't sure if he would handle the soft turf and the distance." Kabel played the waiting game in the early stages of the 1 1/16-mile event, settling the 5-year-old gelding near the middle of the pack. Le Cinquieme Essai and Silver Spear led the 11-horse field (Union Place was scratched) through an opening quarter-mile of :25.13.After Silver Spear cut a half-mile clip in :49.94, Kabel roused Fly Smartly into contention as the field turned for home, holding a narrow lead in the drive to the finish line. "I knew I had a shot turning for home," said Kabel, now a five-time winner of the Connaught Cup (second only to Robin Platts, with eight). "I had a lot of horse underneath me, but I didn't know who else was behind me. I just kept riding."Fly Smartly fended off stubborn challenges from a game Solitary Dancer and a late-charging Mr. Sulu, to win by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:47.71."These races are what it's all about," offered Kabel, who leads the Woodbine colony with six stakes wins in 2003. "There's always a twinkle in your eye when you bring a good horse across the wire."Fly Smartly now has four lifetime wins and 10 in-the-money showings in 19 career starts.
The victory, worth $104,130, boosts his lifetime earnings to $259,994.He paid $14.60, $8.80 and $6.40 across the board. Solitary Dancer ($16.10, $10.00) finished second, while Mr. Sulu ($8.20) rounded out the top three. The exacta paid $300.00. The trifecta paid $3,350.80. (Chart, Equibase)