Updated on 09/17/2011 11:11AM

McKnight breaks stakes drought


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Norm McKnight hadn't won a stakes race since Sept. 25, 1999, when Dawson's Legacy won the Sky Classic here. That could be why McKnight seemed more relieved than excited when he ended his stakes drought with Slightlymorelikely here in Sunday's $136,250 Ontario Debutante.

"We needed that, believe me," McKnight said. "We've had kind of a rollercoaster year.

"We've had trouble getting a lot of consistency from our starters. And we've had a lot of injuries; that doesn't make the job any easier."

Slightlymorelikely certainly made it look easy here Sunday, when she won the Ontario Debutante by 6 3/4 lengths and earned $81,750.

The race was Slightlymorelikely's first for McKnight, who had claimed the 2-year-old filly for $50,000 from her previous start on behalf of owner Ron Udit.

"We're always looking for new talent, and I particularly like looking at 2-year-olds," said McKnight, who is in his fifth year as a Thoroughbred trainer after moving over from the Standardbred business. "I prefer them over older claiming horses."

Slightlymorelikely, a Kentucky-bred who had sold for $12,000 at Ocala last August, had caught McKnight's eye prior to her first start here June 7.

"I thought she was a tidy little package," McKnight said. "She was conformationally correct."

Although she was entered with a $40,000 claiming tag for her first start, in which she finished second, McKnight did not fill out a claim slip for the filly. Trainer Vito Armata did, however, and McKnight figured that was the end of the story.

"I thought, 'She's gone, I won't get her now,'" McKnight said.

But when Armata entered Slightlymorelikely for $50,000 on July 4, McKnight sought out Udit, who has been one of his clients for the past six years.

"I told him I'd been entertaining the idea of claiming her for $40,000 first time out," McKnight said. "And I thought she could have won that first start; she was a little awkward, and green.

"He said, 'If you like her, go ahead and take her.'"

McKnight was well aware that Slightlymorelikely stood a very good chance of winning her second start.

"There was the consideration that if she broke her maiden that day, I'd have to run her back in an allowance race," he said.

Slightlymorelikely not only won, but she did so by 10 3/4 lengths and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 88.

Instead of searching for an allowance spot, McKnight and Udit found themselves in possession of an odds-on choice who did not disappoint in her stakes debut.

McKnight has not given much thought as to where Slightlymorelikely might run next, and anticipates that decision will not even be his to make.

"There's a good possibility she'll be sold," he said. "The owner is in the business to make money."

Udit knows about money, having spent 13 years working as an accountant for Gino Molinaro, an owner and breeder whom he credits for introducing him to racing.

While Slightlymorelikely is Udit's first stakes winner, he was the sole or part owner of stakes-placed Seventh Choice, Miss Benny, and Copelan's Piano.

Portcullis gets overdue win

More than one Breeders' Stakes winner was in the news here last weekend as Portcullis, winner of last year's Breeders' for Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad, recorded his first subsequent victory in an $89,000 allowance race Sunday.

Portcullis made just one more 2002 appearance after the Breeders', finishing seventh of eight in the Canadian International, but his earlier accomplishments were enough to earn him a Sovereign Award as Canada's top turf male.

This year, Portcullis began his season with a fifth-place finish in the prep for the Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes here June 29. He then finished fourth, beaten five lengths in the Chinese Cultural Centre on July 20, which was won by his stablemate Strut the Stage. Perfect Soul, aimed for the Arlington Million, finished second.

"He didn't get going till pretty late this year, and his first two starts he probably needed," said Frostad, who expected Portcullis to have some difficulty making the transition from the sheltered ranks of 3-year-old turf competition to facing older horses.

"When you've got horses like Strut the Stage, and Perfect Soul, they're world-class horses," Frostad said.

Portcullis now may be ready to take that step forward, after rallying from well back under regular rider Slade Callaghan Sunday to run down entrymate Angel on the Wing, who finished second after finishing third in the Chinese Cultural Centre.

Portcullis is slated to return in the Grade 2, $300,000 Niagara, a 1 1/2-mile turf race here Aug. 30 and could have plenty of Sam-Son company in the form of Strut the Stage and Angel on the Wing.

Only Fools Rush In brings speed

Only Fools Rush In, who might be taking a class drop from a $62,500 claiming race to an Ontario-sired allowance race in Thursday's feature, should be a serious speed threat in the six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up.

Only Fools Rush In was claimed for $32,000 July 9 by Vito Armata, one of the shrewdest claiming trainers at Woodbine.

Armata ran Only Fools Rush In back two weeks ago for $62,500, where he dueled wide on the lead with the eventual runaway winner, Choreography. He faded in the final furlong, but finished third in the 6 1/2-furlong race.

Only Fools Rush In has earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 77 twice in his five starts, which is better than what any of his rivals have accomplished. Todd Kabel, who was aboard for his maiden victory, has the mount.

Also entered in the $63,500 race are Great Trilogy, Bound With Honour, Flying Peacock, Foxworthy, President Mac, Wicksy, and Fleet Foot Fox.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink