09/15/2016 10:50AM

Hovdey: Another majestic setting for Tepin


After a summer full of Songbird and California Chrome, Arrogate and Flintshire, Beholder and Stellar Wind, it’s finally Tepin’s turn.

On Saturday, the nation’s reigning female turf champion will be making her first start since taking the British Isles by storm in winning the Queen Anne Stakes on the first day of the Royal Ascot meeting last June. The setting is the Woodbine Mile, worth a million Canadian dollars, and Tepin faces seven, including the British invaders Mutakayyef and Arod.

The stage for the champ is perfect. You will not find a prettier, more bulletproof layout for race in North America than the mile on the grass at Woodbine. Every horse and every rider should be allowed to experience the course at least once, just to say they did.

The long, straight backstretch allows a field of any size to sift through its early differences and arrive at a pace that makes sense. This is followed by a gentle turn that shocks neither the European sensibilities nor gives undue advantage to Americans accustomed to hooping it around tight ovals.

Then comes the final straight, an emerald-green alley 1,440 feet long and 100 feet wide from the top of the stretch to the finish line, 3.3 acres of imported Kentucky bluegrass that has tested great milers like Wise Dan, Ventura, and Leroidesanimeaux to their exciting limits.

Touch of the Blues and Kent Desormeaux used every inch of those 1,440 feet to get the job done in the 2003 Mile, beating local hero Soaring Free in a thriller. Soaring Free came right back to win the following year.

Announcer Dan Loiselle had all but conceded the 2007 Mile to Kip Deville, who had outfought Galantas and Remarkable News to take the lead late. Then, at the sixteenth pole, Loiselle spied Shakespeare and Garrett Gomez slipping up the inside, labeling the moment “homestretch heroics” as they won by a length.

Robert Masterson, Tepin’s owner, has raced his horses far and wide, but he has never been to Woodbine to watch one of them run. Until now.

“Mark was just inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame,” Masterson said, referring to trainer Mark Casse. “But he’s never won the Woodbine Mile, so we thought this race would be good for him as well as her.”

It certainly makes sense if a horse wants to have an impact on the Breeders’ Cup Mile, to be run Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park. Nine Woodbine Mile winners, plus the disqualified Hawksley Hill, have finished first, second, or third in the BC Mile. The list includes last year’s Woodbine Mile winner, Mondialiste, who beat everybody at Keeneland except Tepin.

At Ascot, Tepin was winning her fifth race of 2016, which counts these days as a grueling schedule.

“The idea was to give her plenty of time to recover after her trip to England,” Masterson said. “Then there was a little thing where Mark wasn’t a hundred percent happy with the way she was handling the dirt track while training at Saratoga earlier in the meet.”

Tepin rebounded with a series of blistering moves on the Oklahoma turf course at Saratoga that had Casse breathing a sigh of relief and Masterson packing for Ontario.

Still, going three months without a Tepin race would seem like an eternity for her fans and family. Masterson, at least, can tap into the lingering buzz from her victory in the Queen Anne, the most prestigious European race that an American-trained horse has won since Fourstars Allstar took the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1991.

“I lost my top hat in all the excitement,” Masterson said. “It took us about five minutes to find it before I could go down to the winner’s stand.”

In the wake of Royal Ascot fizzles by such American stars as Animal Kingdom (up the track) and California Chrome (scratch), Tepin came as a welcome historical tonic.

“They come over here and run against us in the Breeders’ Cup all the time, so I thought, ‘Why not go over there and run on their land, under their conditions?’ ” Masterson said. “I really didn’t go there expecting to win. I just hoped she would run her race and do the best she could. Anyway, the experts over there didn’t think she could be any better than fourth because of no Lasix, no nasal strip, and running straight up a hill.

“Afterwards, when she had won, the British crowd was elated,” Masterson added. “Their reaction was almost as big a thrill as winning itself. I mean, here we are, winning the race named for Queen Anne, who started the Royal Ascot meet in 1711. That’s about as good as it gets.”

Woodbine Mile Day will offer an attractive program of 12 races. The Canadian Stakes, at nine furlongs for mares on grass, has lured Diana Stakes winner Dacita, while the 12-furlong Northern Dancer Turf will pit turf aces World Approval, Wake Forest, The Pizza Man, and Big Blue Kitten.

Appropriately, Tepin will be the last horse to take the field, wearing No. 8 of eight in the Mile, the final race of the day. She will not be greeted by quite the same pomp and circumstance as attended her last appearance at Royal Ascot. But by now, wherever Tepin goes is definitely the place to be.