By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
This week’s extensive selection of top-notch international racing continues on Sunday with a trio of graded stakes races at Woodbine, including a pair of prestigious grade Is that have drawn talented horses from Canada, the U.S., and England. With such deep fields, there are bound to be some solid longshots that can hit the board at a good price—let’s see if we can find some!
Woodbine Mile (gr. I)
In each of the last two years, picking the winner of the Woodbine Mile has been relatively easy—all you had to do was settle on Wise Dan and watch the brilliant gelding romp on both occasions. But this year, with Wise Dan skipping the race, finding the winner is going to be considerably harder.
A total of eleven horses have turned out for this year’s renewal of the Woodbine Mile, with seven of them being graded stakes winners. The morning line favorite at 5-2 is Kaigun, who ran very well against Wise Dan on two occasions earlier this year. Later, after a pair of narrow defeats going ten and eleven furlongs in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. I) and United Nations Stakes (gr. I), the Mark Casse-trained gelding cut back to seven furlongs for Woodbine’s Play the King Stakes (gr. II) and scored by three-quarters of a length in the sharp time of 1:20.71 seconds. A mile seems like the perfect distance for him, and his ability to race near the pace or come from far back should help him adapt to whatever pace scenario presents itself on Saturday.
Obviously, Kaigun must be considered a major contender for the top spot, but as the expected favorite in a large, seemingly evenly-matched field, I’m going to try and find a better price.
One horse offering excellent odds is—drumroll!—Bobby’s Kitten, a horse that I have discussed on numerous occasions in the past. By now, regular readers of this blog are fully familiar with my high regard for this colt, although I must admit that his defeat in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II) last time out has shaken my confidence in him just a bit. Nevertheless, he gets into the Woodbine Mile carrying just 112 pounds (nine less than Kaigun), and may appreciate the one-turn conditions of the Woodbine Mile. Also, perhaps new rider Joel Rosario will be able to keep Bobby’s Kitten from running off early in the race, as the headstrong colt is prone to doing.
But although Bobby’s Kitten offers good odds at 15-1, it’s hard to back a colt as inconsistent and unpredictable as Bobby’s Kitten, and so while I would love to see him win, I will be looking elsewhere for my "official" selection. Three of the Woodbine Mile entrants—Grand Arch (4-1), Jack Milton (7-2), and Dorsett (15-1)—all emerge from the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. II) at Saratoga, in which they ran second, third, and fourth, respectively. On paper, the horses coming out of the Fourstardave seem just as talented as any of the other horses in the Woodbine Mile, and since the margin between Grand Arch, Jack Milton, and Dorsett in the Fourstardave was only a length, Dorsett seems to offer exceptional value at 15-1. Granted, his effort in the Fourstardave was a major improvement on his thirteen previous races, but it was also his second start off a lengthy layoff, and just his second as a four-year-old, so his improvement really wasn’t all that surprising. So although I will be rooting for Bobby’s Kitten, and greatly respect the chances of Kaigun, I’ll take a shot with Dorsett and hope that he takes another step forward on Sunday.
Northern Dancer Stakes
Utmost respect most be given to morning line favorite The Pizza Man, who has won his last five starts—all stakes—at distances ranging from one mile to 13.5 furlongs. That kind of versatility is admirable, but The Pizza Man has spent much of his career running against moderate company in Illinois, and the switch to Woodbine—with its lengthy homestretch—may not be as suitable for the speedy The Pizza Man.
I really like the chances of Aldous Snow, who won Woodbine’s Singspiel Stakes (gr. III) two starts back over the same distance as the Northern Dancer. In that race, Aldous Snow ran his final half-mile in about :45 3/5 seconds, an exceptional time that would definitely put him in the hunt on Sunday. Last time out, Aldous Snow was compromised by a slow pace in the ten-furlong Sky Classic Stakes (gr. II) and came home in sixth, but the stretch back out to twelve furlongs, coupled with what should be a somewhat quicker pace, should help him to rebound. But even more than Aldous Snow, I like the chances of Perfect Timber, who was beaten just a neck in last year’s Northern Dancer Stakes. Perfect Timber failed to fire last time out when last in the Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, but two starts back, he closed strongly against Aldous Snow in the Singspiel and was beaten just a nose while running his final half-mile in about :45 1/5. At 10-1 on the morning line, and with John Velazquez in the saddle for trainer Roger Attfield, Perfect Timber looks to have an excellent chance at pulling off a mild upset.
Who do you like on Sunday?