Strut the Stage Edges Cetewayo, Man From Wicklow

(From track report
It may have been over a year since Todd Kabel and Strut the Stage had been paired together, but the duo were once again in familiar territory, combining for a classic winning effort in Sunday's $279,500 Sky Classic Stakes (gr. IIT) at Woodbine.

Kabel, who earned his track-leading 18th stakes score on the season, roused the grand-looking chestnut to the front just after the final turn, fending off stout U.S. invaders Cetewayo and Man From Wicklow, for a hard-fought 3/4-length victory.

While he's small in stature compared to most of his rivals, Strut the Stage was large and in charge on this day, a performance that had trainer Mark Frostad beaming.

"He's a brave, little horse and he has a lot of heart," said Frostad, of the 4-year-old colt. "He ran a super race today. We had been looking to get him into some more mile or 1 1/16 mile races this year, but I'm glad we found out we can stretch him out a little bit."

It was the appropriately named Stage Classic who took the early lead in the 1 3/8-mile event over a soft E.P. Taylor Turf Course, as Strut the Stage settled into second and longshot Gritty Sandie secured third. The opening quarter-mile was a modest :25.40.

Stage Classic continued to lead at the half-mile point (:51.21), followed by 15-1 outsider Lucky Molar. Kabel patiently rated his charge just off the leaders as the field wound its way towards the turn for home.

After rallying past the early pacesetters, Strut the Stage not only had to contend with the long stretch run to the wire, but also a pair of capable competitors in morning line favorite Cetewayo and the highly regarded Man From Wicklow.

"There was no pace and he dug in deep when the other horse (Cetewayo) came to him," offered Kabel, who currently ranks second in the Woodbine rider standings. "When I asked him, he just exploded and finished up really strong."

The final time for the victory was 2:06.31.

Grateful for the win, the veteran rider was even happier for the opportunity to get back in the saddle of the Sam-Son Farm star.

"I messed up the last time I rode him and didn't get to ride him back again until now. But I've been working him the whole year and we knew he was coming into the race just right."

The key to victory, says Kabel, was Strut the Stage's ability to stay composed throughout the marathon battle.

"He's a horse you have to get relaxed," said Kabel, who guided Strut the Stage to a win in the 2001 edition of the Toronto Cup Stakes at Woodbine. "If he's not relaxed, he's going to use himself up and burn himself out. But he ran a super race today."

In victory, the son of Theatrical earned $167,700, boosting his career bankroll to an impressive $780,38.

He paid $5.50, $3.30 and $2.30 across the board, combining with Cetewayo ($3.60, $2.60) for a $13.70 exacta. A late-charging Man From Wicklow ($2.70) completed a $38.40 trifecta.

(Chart, Equibase)