04/03/2012 2:20PM

Canadian Horse of the Year honors up for grabs

Coady Photography/Keeneland
Never Retreat is among the finalists for the Sovereign Award as Canada's Horse of the Year.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – It may seem to be a little late on the calendar, but the Canadian horse racing industry will be ringing out the old year and ringing in the new here at Woodbine on Thursday evening. The occasion will be the 37th annual Sovereign Awards ceremony, celebrating the best of 2011 in Canadian racing and breeding.

For the second straight year, the festivities will take place on the third floor of the grandstand here at Woodbine, where the Canadian Thoroughbred racing season will begin at 1 p.m. Friday.

The finalists for 2011 honors were announced Jan. 24 following online balloting conducted by the Jockey Club of Canada, which oversees and hosts the Sovereign Awards.

Horses must have made three starts in Canada in 2011 to be eligible for consideration.

Horse of the Year would seem to be one of several potentially contentious categories, with Never Retreat, Pender Harbour, and Inglorious all bound to attract support.

Never Retreat, based south of the border with trainer Chris Block, started at Woodbine three times, all in Grade 2 stakes on the turf, winning the Dance Smartly and Canadian after finishing second in the Nassau.

Now retired, the 7-year-old Never Retreat also is a leading contender in the filly and mare turf category.

Pender Harbour won the last two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, taking the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales on the dirt at Fort Erie and the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ on the turf at Woodbine.

Trained by Mike DePaulo, Pender Harbour also defeated older horses on the grass in Woodbine’s Bunty Lawless and is a finalist in the male turf category.

Gardiner Farm bred Pender Harbour and is a finalist for outstanding breeder along with Adena Springs and Arosa Farm, the breeder of Inglorious.

Trained by Josie Carroll, Inglorious captured the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen’s Plate last June and heads the list in the 3-year-old filly division.

Her owners, Donna and Vern Dubinsky, will be looking for their first Sovereign Award in the owners category, with their competition including previous winners Bear Stable and Melnyk Racing Stable.

Marketing Mix, who could be the hard-luck horse in this year’s Sovereign balloting, moved up considerably when switching to turf last summer, but will have Inglorious to contend with in her own division and Never Retreat in the filly and mare turf ranks.

Embur’s Song, a 5-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher, also is a dual finalist, on the short list for the older filly and mare and filly and mare sprinter awards.

Her opponents in the sprinter category include Atlantic Hurricane, who won three of her last four 2011 starts in Woodbine stakes for trainer Stuart Simon.

Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Luis Contreras, who collaborated on many occasions and were runaway leaders in their respective divisions at Woodbine last year, top their Sovereign Award categories.

Casse, winner of three consecutive Sovereign Awards from 2006-08, will be looking to regain the award from Roger Attfield after finishing second to that Hall of Fame trainer in the last two ballots.

Northern Passion, in the 2-year-old filly division, and Prospective, 2-year-old male, are Casse’s individual equine nominees.
Tu Endie Wei, a multiple stakes winner, and Hard Not to Like, a two-time winner over males and a close fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly and Mare Turf, are the other juvenile filly finalists.

Maritimer, who finished his first campaign with victories in Woodbine’s Coronation Futurity and Display, is the favorite in the 2-year-old male division.

Attfield’s divisional candidates are Musketier, a three-time graded stakes winner in 2011, in the turf male category; Miss Keller, the defending champion for the filly and mare turf award; Don Cavallo, in the male main-track division; and Smart Sting, 3-year-old filly.

The male sprinter category features finalists Essence Hit Man, Gypsy Ring, and Signature Red.

The outstanding apprentice list comprises Ryan Pacheco, Betty Jo Williams, and Scott Williams.

Awards also will be presented to the year’s outstanding broodmare, which is a lifetime achievement award, and in four media categories.