In some ways, my weekend trip to Woodbine was ill-timed: the opening of Saratoga in two days leaves too little time to discuss Woodbine in the detail it deserves; I couldn’t stay for Sunday’s Nijinsky, featuring local favorite Rahy’s Attorney; and it poured nearly constantly on Saturday afternoon, confining us to the indoors for most of the day.
Some pleasant surprises awaited, too: I discovered last week that a New York racing friend had a filly entered in Saturday’s feature, the Wonder Where; a big night of harness racing was slated for Mohawk, so we adjusted plans to catch that as well; and completely unexpectedly, I discovered several convergences of my two favorite sports.
Eibar Coa travelled to Toronto from his New York base to ride Miss Blakely in the Wonder Where. The three-year-old daughter of Smart Strike won the Boynton Beach at Gulfstream in April and was coming in off a third in the first leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara, the Woodbine Oaks, last month. The Joe Orseno-trained filly passed on the second leg, the Bison City, and went off as the favorite on Saturday, despite never having raced on soft turf. One of her owners, Herb Oster, also made the trip north to see his filly run.
Undoubtedly Miss Blakely’s fifth place finish will be attributed to the condition of the turf; she settled in fifth place, encountered traffic, and never really ran. Tasty Temptation, the bettor’s second choice and the filly who finished second in the Oaks and fourth in the Queen’s Plate, closed to win by half a length. Ho-hum—another day, another Medaglia D’Oro filly earning a little more black type.
The ground floor of the Woodbine clubhouse contains a marvelous Canadian Racing Hall of Fame, and it was here that I learned of the Wonder Where’s connection to my favorite sport played by humans. Frank Selke, instrumental in bringing Stanley Cups to both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montréal Canadiens, was inducted in 1960 into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder of the sport, and he earned the same honor posthumously, in 2003, in the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.
Selke bred Wonder Where, the filly who was named Canada’s Horse in the Year in 1959 on the strength of eight stakes wins and a further six stakes placings. His long-time hockey partner Conn Smythe was part-owner of Wonder Where, whose Horse of the Year honors came at the expense of that year’s Canadian Triple Crown winner, New Providence.
The hockey and horse racing theme carried over to the evening’s festivities, when we headed to Mohawk to see the $720,500 Maple Leaf Trot. Maple Leaf great Darryl Sittler was on hand to present the trophy, and though he hasn’t played hockey since 1985, his stature in Toronto appears undiminished, based on the number of people stopping him for photos and autographs. His place in Maple Leafs history was made secure on February 7, 1976, when he scored ten points (six goals, four assists) in an 11-4 rout of the Boston Bruins.
The hockey/horse racing trifecta would have been made perfect had the Maple Leaf Trot been won by Sakic Seelster, but that five-year-old gelding finished ninth of ten. Lucky Jim came into the race undefeated in fifteen starts but could only be third, and the race was won, the delight of about a hundred people on the apron, by San Pail. You can read more on this at Pull The Pocket.
Before taking off on Sunday morning, I headed over to watch the workouts, and I spent a delightful half hour in the barn of trainer Ian Black, meeting some of his horses and hearing their stories. The barn was abuzz with anticipation of yesterday afternoon’s Grade II Nijinsky, in which their Rahy’s Attorney would be the likely favorite. Favored he was, and won he did, by nearly two lengths. Thanks to my host, I got to wish him good luck that morning, regretful that I couldn’t stick around to see the race.
Keith McCalmont of Triple Dead Heat and Down The Stretch newspaper was my host extraordinaire, and I can’t thank him enough for introducing me to so many elements of Toronto racing. The roughly 21 hours I spent in Toronto weren’t nearly enough, and I look forward to a return visit as soon as possible…with just maybe a side trip to Fort Erie…