05/30/2010 11:00PM

Grand Adventure ready for big year

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The Woodbine Mile, one of the jewels of Canadian racing along with the Queen's Plate, Prince of Wales, Breeders' Stakes, E.P. Taylor Stakes, Canadian International, and Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf, is one of the more taxing turf races in North America. It is a sharp one-turn mile with a long and demanding homestretch and has been targeted by some of the top horsemen of this generation. Since 1997, the late Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale have each won three editions and Mark Frostad won two Woodbine Miles (Quiet Resolve by disqualification in 1999 and Soaring Free in 2004) for Sam-Son Farm. That potent owner-trainer combination has another strong contender for 2010 in Grand Adventure, the impressive winner of the Grade 3 Connaught Cup going seven furlongs over the Woodbine turf last Sunday.

Grand Adventure had often teased his connections with potential, but leading up to the Connaught Cup he had not won a race since August 2009 and seemed in danger of wasting that unrealized ability. But the way he dismantled a strong field that included millionaire (and 2008 Woodbine Mile winner) Rahy's Attorney, graded/group winners Field Commission, Passager, and Jungle Wave, and Queen's Plate winner Not Bourbon indicates that he could be ready for a strong 2010 campaign.

In the Connaught Cup, jockey Patrick Husbands parked Grand Adventure in a pace-tracking position while three paths wide throughout. The first quarter of 23.54 seconds was moderate, but the early leaders started to quicken through the next half-mile in 44.78 (22.10 second quarter and 22.68 third quarter). Grand Adventure maintained his position, despite those taxing fractions, and was still under a hand ride until midstretch. Once Husbands gave Grand Adventure his cue, the 4-year-old colt scurried away to win by a measured length. He stopped the clock in 1:19.83 and earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Grand Adventure sold for $75,000 as a Fasig-Tipton summer yearling of 2007. His sire, Grand Slam, won a pair of Grade 1 routes around one turn as a 2-year-old for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. At 3, Grand Slam was versatile enough to place in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at six furlongs after winning the Peter Pan Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

Grand Adventure is the first foal from the unraced Coronado's Quest mare Val Marie. The stakes-placed second dam, Devine, is a full sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Lakeway. Millardaire, the third dam (by Alydar), is a full sister to Saratoga Six, while the fourth dam, Priceless Fame, is a full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes.

Grand Adventure has always felt at home on the Woodbine turf course. He made his career debut Aug. 30, 2008 in a seven-furlong maiden special weight over good going and couldn't have been more impressive. He broke nicely, prompted the pacesetter from the two path, switched leads professionally at the head of the lane, and finished off his final eighth under only moderate urging in 11.82 to win by a measured length.

Emboldened by that race, Sam-Son and Frostad entered Grand Adventure in the Grade 3 Summer Stakes at a one-turn mile on Oct. 4, 2008. The colt broke a half-length slowly and raced in between rivals for the first half-mile. Grand Adventure angled into the six path turning for home and swept to the lead. He made his final lead change a bit late, and his rider lost the stick inside the final eighth, but Grand Adventure held off the hard-charging Skipadate to prevail by a head. Grand Adventure seemed to labor a bit during the gallop out, an understandable after-effect of the strenuous trip he endured.

Three weeks later, Grand Adventure was in Southern California to compete in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at one mile around two turns. He drew the far outside post in the field of 12, raced wide throughout, and exited his 10th-place finish with a stifle injury.

His recuperation took longer than expected, and Grand Adventure didn't make his 3-year-old debut until late August. He won that second-level optional claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs over the Woodbine lawn, but didn't seem as smooth. After prompting the leaders while three wide, he made his final lead change early and had to work pretty hard in the stretch to win by two lengths.

Frostad took an aggressive route with Grand Adventure, racing him in the 2009 Woodbine Mile in only his second 3-year-old start following the injury-induced layoff. After setting the pace, Grand Adventure faltered to ninth. A tough-trip sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes on Oct. 17 followed the Woodbine Mile debacle.

Grand Adventure capped his 3-year-old campaign with a runner-up effort over yielding going as the 2-1 betting favorite in the Bonapaw Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs over the turf course at Fair Grounds.

Frostad tried Grand Adventure on the main track for the first time in the colt's 4-year-old debut, the $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial at Fair Grounds. Grand Adventure faced a pair of next-out winners in the six-furlong Gaudin, including the triumphant Cash Refund. Grand Adventure raced evenly but didn't show the same verve he had displayed on grass.

The dirt experiment ended after only one start, but Grand Adventure ran well in his Connaught Cup prep, the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs over the Keeneland grass course on April 10. He was necked by Silver Timber, a sharp runner that returned to win the Grade 3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

Grand Adventure seems back to his very best form. Still lightly raced with only 10 starts under his girth, it's possible that he will continue his ascent for his high-percentage connections. The 2010 Woodbine Mile will be contested on Sept. 19 and seems a likely long-term goal for Grand Adventure.