The gritty 9-year-old Cloudy's Knight surrendered the lead to Eagle Poise but fought back along the inside to win the 1 3/4-mile Valedictory Stakes by one length on closing day of the 167-day Woodbine meet Dec. 6 (VIDEO).
Cloudy's Knight, the odds-on favorite in the $145,994 event trained by Jonathan Sheppard for S J Stables, made his first start since losing the Breeders' Cup Marathon -- at the same 14-furlong distance as the Valedictory -- by a nose on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface Nov. 6. Cloudy's Knight was returning to the track where he won the 2007 Canadian International (Can-IT) by a nose on Woodbine's grass course en route to garnering a Sovereign Award as Canada's champion male turf horse.
Sheppard said Cloudy's Knight, who raced 37 of his 39 prior starts on turf, adapted well to the Santa Anita main track. But he was concerned how his Lord Avie gelding would handle Woodbine's deeper Polytrack.
With Rosemary Homeister Jr. aboard, Cloudy's Knight was tugging while stalking a slow pace in the marathon event before going to the front along the inside as the 10-horse field went under the wire for the first time.
Cloudy's Knight spurted away and was in command down the backstretch before second-choice Eagle Poise, with Patrick Husbands riding, charged to his outside flank and took the lead approaching the quarter pole. With Pool Play also responding to urging from jockey Corey Fraser, Cloudy's Knight was in deep water in the stretch.
But he fought back for Homeister to regain the lead from the 3-year-old Eagle Poise in the final furlong and inched away under hand urging. Cloudy's Knight held off his challenger all the way to the wire, with Pool Play settling for third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up. The winning time was 1:59.32.
"When I got to the front coming to the second turn, I said, 'I hope this doesn't kill my race because he might have thought it was over,' " said Homeister. "When (Eagle Poise) came up next to him I kind of let him pass him a little bit because I didn't want to ask him again yet. It just made him fight that much harder. He does not want to get beat. That was all horse the last quarter mile. He's just a game, aggressive horse."
"He was in such tip-top form," continued Homeister. "Usually, he's very quiet in the post parade. He was bouncing happy and wanting to do something. He broke out of the gate pretty sharp and was on the bit right away. I was trying to hold him and sit in behind horses. I was almost clipping heels a couple of times. Usually I can get him to relax, but he had his mind made up. He wanted to win both times around."
After missing seven months and slumping through the rest of the 2008 season, Cloudy's Knight has won three of four starts for Sheppard. He returned off a year's absence to capture the Kentucky Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) at Kentucky Downs Sept. 19. He then won the Sycamore (gr. IIIT) on the Churchill Downs turf Oct. 22 prior to his big effort in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. In that race, Cloudy's Knight took command on the final turn before giving way grudgingly to Man of Iron in the final strides.
Cloudy's Knight had been at Sheppard's Pennsylvania farm before shipping to Woodbine.
The 121-pound highweight paid $3.60, $2.80, and $2.40 while improving his career record to 13-9-4 in 40 races. The victory, worth $85,059, increased the imposing chestnut's career earnings to nearly $2.4 million.
Jerrold Schwartz, who owns Cloudy's Knight with his wife, Shirley, bred the stayer in Kentucky. Cloudy's Knight is out of Cloudy Spot, by Solar City.
"I certainly wanted to come back to Woodbine," said Shirley Schwartz. "It's our favorite track and his favorite track. It gives us something to shoot for next year."
Juddmonte Farms' Eagle Poise, making his first start for trainer Brian Lynch following the death of his previous trainer, Bobby Frankel, returned $3.10 and $3.10. Second in the Ontario Derby two starts back, Eagle Poise is by 2003 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) victor Empire Maker out of the 1997 Epsom Oaks (Eng-I) winner Reams of Verse.
Pool Play, winner of the nine-furlong Durham Cup Stakes (Can-III) at 11-1 on Oct. 4, was $3.90 to show.