09/17/2010 1:51PM

Million-dollar Mile lures horsemen a long way


It will be another week before the New York Yankees descend upon Toronto to torture the Blue Jays. But just to get things going, in the spirit of in-your-face Yankee pride, two guys wearing those annoying “NY” caps are prowling the vast Woodbine acreage this weekend, intent on taking home most of the money on Sunday in the $1 million Woodbine Mile.

For those rightfully astounded by such a figure in these lean and hungry times, the purse is more accurately described as one million Canadian dollars (exchange rate currently at 96.7 cents in the U.S.), generated by the successful casino operation of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, owners and operators of both Woodbine and Mohawk race courses.

This kind of money flushes them out from far and wide. In addition to Jim Cassidy and Eoin Harty – they of the misplaced Yankee loyalties – California will be represented by two of its most British horsemen, Neil Drysdale and Ben Cecil, while Rick Dutrow, Jim Toner, and Alan Goldberg are sending horses from points east. Mark Frostad, Sid Attard, Barbara Minshell, and Robert Tiller represent the home squad, while Dermot Weld has sent the dangerous Famous Name from Ireland.

Widespread participation should be no surprise. The layout of Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor turf course allows for the most truly run one-mile grass race in North America. With two long straightaways and a single turn, the runners do not need to fuss with the odd dogleg of the Belmont mile, or with any of the two-turn courses shoe-horned inside the eight- and nine-furlong main tracks at such major tracks as Aqueduct, Arlington, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, Keeneland, or Hollywood Park, where outcomes are determined at a disproportionate rate by traffic trouble and the luck of the draw.

(It should be noted that prior to the inception of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, in 1984, there were no major one-mile grass races in North America for just that reason – the distance was an afterthought.)

Jim Cassidy will try to win his first Canadian stakes event with The Usual Q.T., a California-bred son of Unusual Heat who is named for Quincy and Taylor Saadeh, the granddaughters of part owners George and Carolyn Saadeh.

Thirteen months ago, The Usual Q.T. was a maiden, and now he is recognized as the most consistent middle-distance grass horse out West. Cassidy dallied a couple of times this year in a vain attempt to make his 4-year-old gelding a main track performer on synthetics, most recently in the Pacific Classic, when he was fifth, beaten slightly less than three lengths, to Richard’s Kid.

“The Classic turned into a real stayers’ race,” Cassidy said, “and I don’t think I had him fit enough to get the job done on that particular track.”

The real version of The Usual Q.T. looks more like the grass horse who won the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar as well as the Oak Tree and Hollywood Derbies in 2009. Stir in an admirable fourth last March in the Dubai Duty Free, and there is a reason Cassidy is hopeful.

“Everything’s gone great so far back here,” Cassidy said from the Woodbine backstretch Friday morning. “He flew into Buffalo, then vanned to Toronto. It’s stopped raining, and if it stays cool like this the next couple days it should be pretty firm by Sunday.”

Meanwhile, Eoin Harty was just getting on a plane bound from L.A. to Toronto, where he has had considerable Woodbine success in the past, including a victory in the prestigious Grey Stakes in 2005 with the Darley Stud-owned Unification.

“I’m a virgin on the turf course though,” Harty warned. “Never run one before. All I know is that it’s a one-turn mile and they say you don’t want to draw inside going the mile.”

Victor’s Cry, a son of Street Cry, won the Shoemaker Mile and finished second in the Eddie Read. He drew post 2 in the field of 13.

“You’d think drawing inside would mean you’re saving ground, which isn’t a bad thing,” Harty added. “There’s plenty of speed it looks like that he can sit off of, so I see no reason he won’t get the trip he likes.”

Both The Usual Q.T. and Victor’s Cry have Breeders’ Cup ambitions beyond the Canadian race. A good performance would justify such plans.

Since its inception in 1997, the race has been a legitimate tip-off for horses who go on to do well in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Woodbine Mile winners Geri, Labeeb, Good Journey, Touch of the Blues, Leroidesanimaux, and Hawksley Hill (DQed in Canada) were either second or third in the Breeders’ Cup version.

On top of that, a million bucks is a million bucks, or at least close enough.

1968 Kentucky Derby featured famous DQ

A note of thanks to reader Jack Freeman of Miramar, Fla., who pointed out an obvious error in a recent column that summoned the memories of a few famous non-disqualifications in major races. Your correspondent declared that there had never been a disqualification of a Kentucky Derby winner in the 136-year history of the race.

As Freeman noted, that would be news to Peter Fuller, whose Dancer’s Image had the 1968 Kentucky Derby taken away after the colt came up with a positive test for Butazolidin, a medication that was in widespread legal use only a few years later. I was referring to Derby disqualifications based upon racing interference, of course. But that is no excuse for imprecision, and certainly of no consolation to Peter Fuller.