If reigning champion turf female Tepin had her internationally built streak of dominance snapped in the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-IT) Sept. 17 at Woodbine, there would have been good reason for it.
The mare who notoriously thrives off work had been cooling her heels since her historic victory in the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot June 14. And while on form she towered over her seven male rivals in Woodbine's signature turf test, she still had to tackle a unique course for the first time as she tried to ramp up her form cycle in her sixth start this year.
The thing about champions though is that, typically, excuses need not apply. So even as her bay legs got weary and her breath heavy in the final strides of the eight-furlong test, Tepin was still too much—an overwhelming force that turned back rivals and moved the Woodbine crowd in a way her connections have never seen.
Even without her 'A' game or her head trainer in attendance, Robert Masterson's Tepin put on a memorable display for an appreciative crowd, holding off 23-to-1 shot Tower of Texas by half a length in the Woodbine Mile to notch her eighth consecutive victory and sixth career grade/group I triumph.
Of the 13 victories on Tepin's resume, one that also features a triumph in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), her Woodbine Mile win holds its own special significance amongst her connections. It was the first win in the race for her Canadian Racing Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, who missed being able to attend the race when his flight was grounded in Lexington earlier in the day.
It also proved once more that so much of what makes the 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein exceptional is her ability to turn would-be obstacles into moot points.
"She was obviously all heart, you could see even in the win picture that she's laid it all on the line for you," said Norman Casse, top assistant to his father and Tepin's day-to-day overseer. "I had my reservations coming into the race. I thought we had her cranked up, but I wasn't 100 percent confident. She got tired today but she'll move forward and run a little better race next time.
"If you watch her Royal Ascot race even, she didn't have to win that day. She laid it on the line, she struggled with the track then and she still won because that's what she is. She's a champion, and that's what champions do."
Sent off the 2-to-5 favorite out of post No. 8, Tepin broke well and got her usual confident ride from jockey Julien Leparoux, who recently returned to the saddle after being sidelined because of a wrist fracture suffered in early August.
As longshot Glenville Gardens took the field through opening fractions of :23.38 and :46.41 with Full Mast just off his hip, Leparoux rated Tepin fourth in an outside path in the backstretch. When the duo reached the far turn, Leparoux let Tepin roll up three wide alongside Full Mast with group II winner and eventual third-place finisher Mutakayyef on the far outside trying to mount a threat of his own.
"Someone asked me 'Do you get nervous?' And I said, 'I get nervous when she trains, imagine how nervous I get when she runs,'" said Mark Casse, who watched the Woodbine Mile from Churchill Downs. "I thought for a minute she was in trouble. At the quarter pole, I thought she was okay and then towards the end, I was like 'Okay, wire, I'm ready for you'."
Under mild left-handed urging, Tepin flaunted her class in deep stretch as she refused to be passed, hitting the wire in 1:34.13 on a course rated good. Tower of Texas ran on for second, edging Mutakayyef by a neck.
"I thought we had it," Leparoux said. "But she had been off for three months and no matter how many times you breeze her, a race is a race and that's how you get fit. Today we won but it was also a race to get her ready for Breeders' Cup. We knew on paper there was not too much pace but I also knew they weren't going to take it too easy. She ran great."
Tepin's win highlighted a day that featured a record handle for a Woodbine Mile card: a total of $9,638,444 was wagered, eclipsing the 2015 mark of $7,187,062. It was also the fifth-highest single-day handle in Woodbine Thoroughbred racing history.
Bred by Machmer Hall out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened, Tepin improved her record to 13 wins from 21 career starts with $4,017,918 in earnings. She is slated to ship to Saratoga Sept. 19 and could run in either the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) or First Lady Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland Oct,. 8, or train up to her title defense in the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park.
The Woodbine Mile is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race to this year's Mile.
As she ambled up the track post race toward the jubilant masses waiting to lead her in to the winner's circle, a sizable portion of the Woodbine crowd chanted her name from above, raining down praise on the reigning Queen of the Turf.
"Even my people at Woodbine said 'We've never had anything like this before, we've never been around this," Mark Casse said. "I wish I could have been there to hear (the chants). We're just so proud of her."