What a year it’s been! The Racing Season at Woodbine ended last weekend and although it’s only been a week, I do miss it! It brings be so many mixed emotions to see so many of our human and equine friends in the industry ship south to the warmer weathers of Kentucky and Florida this winter, but I know they’re all just a Facebook post away and I can keep a tab on the horses like they are my children.
Over the course of the year I have taken well over 25k photos. Hence, to narrow them down to 400 even was a great feat on my part. I take so much pride in every photo I take, discarding one literally is like getting rid of a memory for me and I have a hard time letting go.
Bit by bit since last Saturday, I’d paste together pieces in what little spare time I had to compile my annual 2015 Year in Horses Video. These Snaps span from April through November, my travels taking me to Fort Erie, New Jersey and Lexington. It was an historic year and no racing fan can deny the sheer delight of witnessing a Triple Crown champion in American Pharoah. The three-year-old colt not only would become the first horse since 1978 to accomplish the illusive feat, but he’d also go on to be the first ever to sweep a Grand Slam (Triple Crown + Breeders’ Cup Classic) en route to capping his career off with $8.6 million in earnings, making him a likely Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
Although racing certainly was exciting south of the border, we had plenty to be proud of in Canada with a competitive three-year-old division which saw three separate horses win each leg of our own Triple Crown: Shaman Ghost, Breaking Lucky and Danish Dynaformer respectively. A Woodbine-based filly named Academic however would travel out west and accomplish some great feats including the Canadian Derby, which could definitely sway voters in Horse of the Year voting in her favour.
To me, the strongest performances came in the two-year-old divisions. For the first time ever a Woodbine-based filly would go south to win the $1-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in Catch a Glimpse. Caren also has been a monster, showing great versatility no matter short nor far including a win in the country’s most important race for fillies in her division, the Princess Elizabeth Stakes. Riker was undefeated in Canada before performing respectably in the $1-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, under Jesse Campbell, who also pilots Caren. And Conquest Enforcer dropped the jaws of everyone including Woodbine‘s CEO,Jim Lawson, with a powerful display in the $250k Cup and Saucer at Woodbine, leaving us wanting more. Meanwhile Shakhimat (translation: “check mate”) gave us every reason to believe he well could be the favourite in next year’s Queen’s Plate, to be held Sunday, July 3, 2016. He crushed a talented field in the $250k Coronation Futurity last month.
Having spent most of my childhood weekends at the racetrack with my parents, it has always been a dream of mine to attend the Breeders’ Cup. The two-day championship series of races often decide divisional honours and Horse of the Year title in America, with 13 races totaling a whopping $24.5 million. Although the event rotates from track to track annually, with our Woodbine playing host once only in 1996, Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky would have the honour this year.
The track, known for its famous Sycamore tree, is within a 50-mile radius of where some of the top thoroughbred horses in the world and bred and born. The decision to go was an easy one this year. Keeneland is one of the most picturesque race courses in the world – one of my favourites. Attending in 2015 checked two items off my bucket list at once.
And can I tell you how kind and gracious the people of Lexington are? We really could learn from them a thing or two about old-school hospitality.
We need no introduction to Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, the first horse to win that illusive series of three races since Affirmed in 1978. After several close calls, racing fans including myself wondered if we ever would see another Triple Crown champion in this lifetime. A win in marquee race, the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic also would accomplish another remarkable feat known as a Grand Slam, which in Horse Racing is comprised of winning both the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. American Pharoah would make it look so easy before an over-capacity and already expanded grandstand of roaring fans, not only winning by six-and-a-half lengths, but also shattering the course record for the 1 1/4 mile distance. The victory for Zayat Stables, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza boosted his career earnings to $8.6 million. His final career race would be a dramatic win with soldiers escorting him off-track and fans on their feet!
Trainer Baffert who has trained many greats in his career, said at a celebratory champagne press conference following the victory, “Secretariat to me was the greatest horse of all time. For American Pharoah to be mentioned in the same sentence is a great honour”. The defection of supermare Beholder late last week certainly improved his chances, but his final performance reminded us exactly why it is we are so obsessed with him. We have witnessed a new chapter in American history and the colt’s legacy will be a thing of stories to a next generation of racing fans.
Watch the race here:
Make no mistake though, the Breeders’ Cup wasn’t only about American Pharoah. The star-studded international affair which took place this past Friday and Saturday was filled with celebrities of the equine and human variety. Breeders’ Cup ambassador and supermodel Kate Upton even came out to show her support. Championship status was solidified for some, while others gave us a new perspective on their case.
Woodbine-based Trainer Mark Casse made us all extremely proud as lightning struck twice for him this weekend, garnering his overdue first-ever Breeders’ Cup wins with Catch a Glimpse in the $1-million Juvenile Turf Fillies and Tepin in the $2-million Turf Mile. The latter defeated a field of males including Woodbine Mile winner Mondialiste who placed second and third-placed Brian Lynch trainee Grand Arch, who is based here locally.
Canadian success also was witnessed in Wavell Avenue scoring huge in the $1-million Filly & Mare Sprint. She was bred in Ontario by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.
Former Vancouver-based jockey Mario Gutierrez also would go on to win the $2-million Juvenile aboard early Kentucky Derby favourite, Nyquist. That race was led till late by likely champion Canadian two-year-old male Riker, ridden valiantly by our Jesse Campbell.
Another Ontario-bred, the accomplished Private Zone, would finish second in the $1.5 million Sprint behind three-year-old, record-smashing internet sensation Runhappy. That winner is trained by up-and-coming trainer Maria Borell, who is giving the sport a new face with her sudden success story. She just started training two years ago, believe it or not.
Let’s re-live some of that magic in a series of Photos from our Nikon D3300 lens:
Legendary trainer (American Pharoah) Bob Baffert. He’s in a sweatshirt. My kinda guy!
I was so busy on my phone that I didn’t notice stunning supermodel Kate Upton taking selfies over the ledge. I was like, “What is everyone taking photos of?!?”. Oh, right. She’s super-sweet and gets a huge gold star for choice of hat!
Filly & Mare winner Stopchargingmaria certainly can pay cash now! No more credit debt!
Rachel’s Valentina, daughter of racing royalty Rachel Alexandra, giving it her all in the Juvenile Fillies. We expect her to continue improving next year.
Mike Smith aboard Juvenile Fillies winner Songbird. Celebratory.
Vancouver’s Mario Gutierrez, leading Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist onto the track. The colt is now the early favourite for the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
Canadian girls do it best. Wavell Avenue and her connections all smiling in unison after her Filly & Mare Sprint win.
The most festive winner’s circle ever. Although Mongolian Saturday was naughty getting ready in the paddock, he sure turned it on in the Turf Sprint for Florent Geroux and Mongolian Stable.
Who cares about Horse Racing though, right?!
Stephanie’s Kitten giving her connections and young jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. emotions after her Filly & Mare Turf win.
Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Catch a Glimpse of Woodbine enjoying her breakfast and giving us a glance the day after her big win.
Tepin‘s connections extremely proud after her Turf Mile win over the boys. I’ll pretend like my kiss and hug had nothing to do with it!
Three-year-old filly Found gives a herculean effort in the Turf Classic, beating the boys, including famed opponent Golden Horn (below).
Hit it a Bomb getting some last minute adjustments from phenomenal Ryan Moore before striking in the Juvenile Turf.
The lovely and sweet Maria Borell trying to contain her tears after star trainee Runhappy wins the Sprint under veteran jockey Edgar Prado.
The handsome Liam’s Map mugs for us once more before his retirement following a win in the Mile.
We had the sheer joy of experiencing the $1.75 million 2015 Haskell Invitational in-person at Monmouth Park. With crowds reaching record attendance (60k+) and fans hoping for a chance to witness a piece of history in star entrant American Pharoah – the first horse to win the American Triple Crown in 37 years – New Jersey Transit pulled-out all precautions needed, adding service to the Racetrack on four more routes.
The vibe was festive as several families planted themselves trackside for an exhilarating afternoon of races. Baseball caps commemorating the race were handed out, food trucks were parked and the afternoon would place the exciting undercard front and center, with jockey Paco Lopez boasting four wins.
Winners today included:
-$100k The Lady’s Secret Stakes won by Got Lucky under Paco Lopez for Hill ‘n’ Dale & P.J. Steiner, trained Todd Pletcher.
-$150k Grade III The Winstar Matchmaker Stakes won by Casual Smile, owned by William S. Farish and trained by Chad Brown, under Abel Castellano Jr.
-$150k Grade III The Oceanport Stakes won by Heart to Heart, owned by Terry Hamilton and trained by Woodbine‘s Brian Lynch with Hothersal, also an Ontario-bred, placing second.
-$100k The Teddy Drone Stakes won by fan favourite Wildcat Red, for Honors Stable and Jose Garoffalo, under Paco Lopez.
-$200k Grade II The Monmouth Cup won by Bradester, owned by Joseph W. Sutton, trained by Eddie Kenneally and ridden by Corey Lanerie.
This year’s renewal of the Haskell Invitational was full of star power. In addition to American Pharoah being the first American Triple Crown winner in 37 years as a primary draw, stars were scattered throughout every corner of the facility, which rings with a charm of another era. Rumours spread that Bruce Springsteen, Eli Manning, Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter were milling about, although physically we saw Bon Jovi‘s Richie Sambora and a Haskell “Riders Up” call by none other than Bill Murray! Despite the Paddock area being open much of the day to Media, a mass exodus was done prior to the Haskell, with only a select few granted access due to some of the high profile types in attendance.
At 5:45 PM EST, the main event would run, but not without Jersey darling Springsteen‘s Born to Run blaring as the field came onto the Track. Cheers were deafening for American Pharoah, an elegant, lean and unsuspecting bay colt who would capture the heart of a nation. Not to take anything away from his peers, but the man of the hour certainly was jockey Victor Espinosa, riding a late career Renaissance piloting back-to-back Kentucky Derby winners and presumably Horse of the Year honours two years in-a-row (last year with California Chrome). The race would go off without a hitch and American Pharoah would rate just off the pace before making a sweeping move into the final turn, winning effortlessly in a quick 1:47.9 for 1 1/8 miles.
See a Replay:
The post-race festivities were grand. American Pharoah would be paraded out after his victory, causing a bumpy frenzy of photography – some who came as far as Australia to cover the race. What ensued next looked like hundreds of people crammed into the compact Winner’s Enclosure as trainer Bob Baffert spoke to the Media for a minute before appearing at a Press Conference with winning owners, Zayat Stables LLC and rider, Espinoza.
The experience will not be forgotten. Let’s relive the 2015 Haskell Invitational through a series of our Photos!
Thanks to the Triple Crown-winning accomplishments of AMERICAN PHAROAH, the Public’s interest in Horse Racing has been piqued once again. Many of us here in Toronto have front-of-the-line access to some of the World’s best at Woodbine Racetrack – just minutes from the Toronto Pearson International Airport – and don’t even know it!
For years now I’ve been singing the praises of the Sport. I grew-up with it and still love v. much to this day as an Ambassador. It is a great part of our Canadian heritage and something that generates a great amount of revenue for our Province every year. I’ve hosted events on major Race Days for Newbies and the response always is unanimous – Horse Racing is exhilarating and fun!
You’ll be thrilled about an amazing opportunity to win a $1,000 Woodbine Gift Card! All you have to do is attend the races at Woodbine at some point in the 2015 Racing Season and post a Selfie on Twitter using the Hashtag #OfftotheRaces to qualify! How easy! And you didn’t even have to place a bet! Your Selfie literally could win you a cool grand. Get creative!
THE QUEEN’S PLATE
Canada’s most prestigious and North America’s most historic horse race, the Queen’s Plate, is coming next month and we’re thrilled at what is shaping-up to be the strongest field in quite some time, after witnessing some of our own Canadian-breds do great things south of the border this winter!
Who will be this year’s Queen’s Plate Champ? Will it be a rapidly-improving Shaman Ghost? Or could it be Conquest Curlinate who stood a real chance at thwarting American Pharoah‘s Triple Crown bid? Will last year’s two-year-old Champion Conquest Typhoon be ready after some setbacks? Could it be Danish Dynaformer from the barn of Hall of Fame Trainer Roger Attfield who won the official prep race, the Plate Trial? Or how about the promising Ami’s Flatter from the barn of Josie Carroll, the first-ever female Trainer to win the Queen’s Plate? What if it were a filly to win again against the boys in talented Academic?
Some major Race Days this Season at Woodbine Racetrack include:
Sunday, June 14th, the $500k Budweiser Woodbine Oaks and $150k Plate Trial
The Woodbine Oaks is restricted for Canadian-bred Fillies and is the Country’s most important race for the division. Greats like Dance Smartly and Lexie Lou (in 2014) won this Race en route to doing amazing things in the U.S., including both being named Canadian Horse of the Year.
The Plate Trial is considered a key Prep Race for the Queen’s Plate and often determines who will be the Favourite in the Queen’s Plate. Big Red Mike, Eye of the Leopard, Alydeed, Izvestia and With Approval are among winners of this race who went on to win the Plate.
Sunday, July 5th, the 156th running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate
The Queen’s Plate is the Country’s top race for three-year-olds, the Canadian equivalent to America’s Kentucky Derby. Various members of the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth II have attended the prestigious affair.
The event is highlighted by the Hats & Horseshoes Party – which all are invited to – sees guests at Woodbine dressing-up in their best attire and hats to celebrate the important race with cocktails, food, entertainment, music and fashion.
Sunday, September 13th,the $1 millionRicoh Woodbine Mile
One of Woodbine‘s marquee fixtures, which traditionally has drawn some of the World’s finest talent as a Grade I race. The one-mile event on the grass has attracted the likes of Rahy’s Attorney, Shakespeare, Leroidesanimaux, Court Vision and two-time North American Horse of the Year, Wise Dan who won the race twice in 2012 and 2013.
Sunday, October 18th, the $1 millionPattison Canadian International
Most famously known as the race in which legendary Secretariat capped-off his remarkable career, the Pattison Canadian International every year attracts a field rich and deep in quality as the lush turf course Woodbine is known for. Singspiel, Sky Classic, Chief Bearheart, Infamy, All Along, Majesty’s Prince and three-time Winner, Joshua Tree are among some of the more famous winners of the Grade I race.
Sunday, October 24, the Breeders’ Crown
While most of the races we’ve named thus far are for Thoroughbred horses, Woodbine also is known for its world-class Harness Racing (you know… where horses race in Buggies?). The Breeders’s Crown is known as a championship night of racing, with purses totaling the millions, seeing Standardbred horses across twelve different divisions compete for titles. We’re extremely lucky to see the night hosted at Woodbine this year, with the Breeders’ Crown touring different tracks across North America annually.
Stay tuned for our coverage leading-up to the Plate in coming weeks. We’re extremely stoked to be covering some of this year’s Candidates and we’ll be sure to have you Queen’s Plate-ready in-time for that first Sunday in July!