Historically, the $1-million Woodbine Mile (Can-I) has always drawn strong fields and some of the best turf horses in North America. But the 11th edition of Woodbine Racetrack’s premier event might have more intrigue than ever, as several exciting storylines abound for the 14 turf specialists entered Sept. 16.
Among the top headlines for The Mile are: a filly taking on the boys, a pair of local horses who dominate the Woodbine turf, a defending champion looking to make history, and a remarkable colt in the midst of a courageous comeback. How will it all play out? Bettors have plenty to think about before making that determination.
Perhaps the best storyline comes from Shakespeare, a 6-year-old colt who sat out 21 months with a tendon injury before gallantly returning to the winners circle in his first race back Aug. 2 at Saratoga.
Unbeaten in his first five career starts, including the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. I) in October 2005, Shakespeare was injured in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) four weeks later. At that time, the son of Theatrical-Lady Shirl was trained by Bill Mott. But after William Schettine and Dell Ridge Farm acquired the Kentucky-bred, he was shipped to Kiaran McLaughlin’s stable. Shakespeare resumed training in May before his dramatic comeback victory last month, in which he burned a mile in 1:34 in allowance competition.
"He's a very, very talented horse and he has a lot of ability," marveled McLaughlin. "He's come back great. He does things effortlessly."
Shakespeare, who registered a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in his return, was installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite and will leave from post 3 with Garrett Gomez aboard.
Becrux will try to become the first horse to win The Mile twice, as the 5-year-old gelding captured the 2006 edition in dramatic fashion. Since then, the Italian-bred has been back to the winners circle just once in six tries, taking the Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar in July. Most recently, Becrux was second by three-quarters of a length in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. II).
Team Valor Stables and Gary Barber’s Becrux is trained by Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale, who has won The Mile a record three times. Leaving from post 2 with David Flores aboard, the son of Glen Jordan is at odds of 5-1.
Arravale is the sentimental choice for some, as the 4-year-old is the only filly in the event. The daughter of Arch -Kalosca has won five of 10 lifetime starts, including the 2006 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) and the E.P. Taylor Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine last October. This year, Robert Costigan’s 2006 Canadian Horse of the Year has run just twice, most recently finishing third in an allowance at Woodbine. She is 15-1.
“Her owner wanted to run her here,” said trainer Mac Benson. “She’ll like the mile. She’s sharp right now.
Of the six locally based starters, perhaps the two biggest threats are 2006 Male Turf Horse of the Year Sky Conqueror, and Le Cinquieme Essai, both bred in Ontario. Sky Conqueror, who along with Kip Deville will carry a race-high 124 pounds, has won seven career starts, six of them over Woodbine turf. The William Sorokolit homebred has won the Northern Dancer Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. II) two years in a row and has earned a race-high $1.8 million. The 5-year-old has won a pair of graded stakes this year, but his best races have come at distances over a mile.
"We feel that he's a great grass horse," said trainer Darwin Banach. "I don't believe that a mile is out of his reach. He's won at a mile. He was very competitive in the Maker's Mark Mile (April 13 at Keeneland) and it was just his first start of the year."
Le Cinquieme Essai is an 8-year-old gelding who has won 12 times in 29 starts. A W.J. Scott homebred, he most recently took the Play the King Handicap (gr. II) at Woodbine and has won seven times on his home turf. The $1.3 million-earner has raced just twice this year for trainer Paul Nielson, an injury setting him back at the end of 2006.
Awesome Action (ON), Art Master, Dead Red, Remarkable News (VEN), Estevan, Host (CHI), Storm Caller and Galantas complete the field.
There are two additional graded turf stakes on the Woodbine card Sept. 16: the $250,000 Summer Stakes (gr. III) for 2-year-olds, and the $300,000 Canadian Stakes (gr. II), open to 3-year-old fillies and mares and up going 1 1/8-mile.
The one-mile Summer Stakes is headlined by 5/2 favorite Prussian, who scored by 6 3/4-lengths for Bill Mott at Saratoga in his Aug. 17 debut. Meribel, also a 5/2 favorite, is the morning line choice for the Canadian Stakes. The 4-year-old Peaks and Valleys filly has won six times in 17 lifetime starts, four of them in stakes competition.
$1,000,000 Woodbine Mile (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:06 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Host (CHI), 117, John Velazquez
2. Becrux (ITY), 121, David Flores
3. Shakespeare (KY), 117, Garrett Gomez
4. Sky Conqueror (ON), 124, Javier Castellano
5. Kip Deville (OK), 124, Cornelio Velasquez
6. Galantas (KY), 117, Todd Kabel
7. Storm Caller (KY), 117, James McAleney
8. Estevan (KY), 117, Eurico Rosa Da Silva
9. Remarkable News (VEN), 121, Ramon Dominguez
10. Dead Red (KY), 117, Emma-Jayne Wilson
11. Art Master (KY), 119, Julien Leparoux
12. Arravale (KY), 118, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
13. Awesome Action (ON), 117, Robert Landry
14. Le Cinquieme Essai (ON), 121, Steven Bahen