Updated on 04/06/2012 12:22PM

Sovereign Awards: Never Retreat named Canada's 2011 Horse of the Year in close vote

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Michael Burns
Never Retreat wins the Grade 2 Canadian. She was named Horse of the Year on a 78-76 vote.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The vote for Canada's Horse of the Year couldn't have been any closer.

But when the top three choices of 37 Sovereign Award voters had been graded on a 4-2-1 basis, the talented multiple stakes-winning older turf mare Never Retreat was the winner by a 78-76 margin over Inglorious, who had captured last year's Woodbine Oaks and Queen's Plate.

The Horse of the Year presentation was the climax of Thursday night's Sovereign Award celebrations here at Woodbine and a sellout crowd of 300 was on hand to fete the winners.

"When she started off 2011 we never dreamed she'd be able to do what she was able to do," said Chris Block, who trains Never Retreat for the family's Team Block and was joined onstage by his father, Dave Block.

"Lots of people thought we should have retired her - she was 6 years old. But we knew she loved the one-turn turf course here."

Never Retreat, based in the Midwest last spring and summer for the Blocks, had shipped to Woodbine for three starts, the minimum number required for Sovereign Award consideration.

Those journeys yielded victories in the Canadian and Dance Smartly plus a second-place finish in the Nassau, all of those races Grade 2 turf stakes for fillies and mares.
Never Retreat also won three graded stakes south of the border, including Keeneland's Grade 1 First Lady, and was an easy winner of the turf female Sovereign Award
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Inglorious, who was a convincing winner of the 3-year-old filly award, had won the La Lorgnette here before her Oaks-Plate double for trainer Josie Carroll.

Her successes also contributed heavily to an outstanding broodmare award for her dam, Noble Strike, and to a dead-heat win in the owners category for the Donver Stable of Donna and Verne Dubinsky. Glen Todd and Patrick Kinsella, based in British Columbia, shared that honor.

Pender Harbour, third in both the Horse of the Year and turf male vote, was a unanimous choice in the 3-year-old male balloting.

Owned by Denny Andrews, Sandra Lazaruk and Bob and Roberta Giffin, Pender Harbour had victories for trainer Mike DePaulo that included the final two legs of the Canadian triple crown, Fort Erie's Prince of Wales on the dirt and Woodbine's Breeders' on the turf.

Pender Harbour's successes also propelled Gardiner Farm to a Sovereign Award as outstanding breeder. Gardiner Farm won in a close vote over Adena Springs.
That presentation was the emotional high point of the evening as Moira Gunn accepted on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Michael Colterjohn, the longtime Gardiner Farm president who died just last week at age 55.

Another hotly contested vote came in the older male, main track category. Fifty Proof, owned by David Willmot, John Fielding and Ben Hutzel and trained by Ian Black, prevailed there over Don Cavallo in a division that lacked a standout.

Embur's Song, owned by Fares Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher, won three graded stakes and outdistanced her competitors in the filly-mare main track vote.

Now 5 years old, Embur's Song also is retired and is in foal to Giant's Causeway.

Atlantic Hurricane, a winner of three Woodbine stakes for trainer and part-owner Stuart Simon and his partners Brent and Russ McLellan and Carl Hollick, was likewise dominant in the filly/mare sprinter balloting.

Musketier, a three-time graded stakes winner for owner Stella Perdomo and trainer Roger Attfield, prevailed in the male turf horse division.

"To me, he is a very special horse," said Attfield. "He's 10 years of age, and he's still going strong."

Essence Hit Man, a homebred who bookended his 2011 campaign with impressive victories in sprint stakes here for trainer and co-owner Audre Cappuccitti, was adjudged to be the best in his category.

The 2-year-old awards went to Tu Endie Wei, a multiple stakes winner owned and bred by Brereton Jones and trained by Sovereign Award finalist Reade Baker, and Maritimer, who raced for his breeder, Howard Walton, and was trained by Sid Attard before being sold  to Dubai-based interests early this winter.

Mark Casse, who established records for races and money won here at Woodbine last year, captured his fourth Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding trainer, and Luis Contreras, who dominated the jockey standings here, earned his first award in his category.

The outstanding apprentice award winner, Ryan Pacheco, also was based at Woodbine.
In a change from the scheduled program, a special Sovereign Award was presented to Sue Leslie to recognize her dedication to and efforts on behalf of Ontario's racing industry.

Nick Eaves, president and chief executive officer of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, presented the award to Leslie, who in her position as president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association has been spearheading racing's fight against the Ontario government's plan to cancel the racetrack slot-machine program.

"I am extremely humbled," said Leslie, "and so proud of our industry and the many people who rose to the occasion to meet the challenges facing us. "I'm sure in the end we'll survive, and come out of it stronger than we were before."

In addition to holding her position with the racing industry association, Leslie is president of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, a director of the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society, and a steward of the Jockey Club of Canada. She also trains horses here at Woodbine.

Awards also were presented in four media categories, with Jennifer Morrison winning for her feature story in Canadian Thoroughbred, Beverley Smith for her news story in The Globe and Mail, Dave Landry for a photograph that appeared in Canadian Thoroughbred, and Tom Wolski of Shaw TV for a special entitled "Sport of Kings."

Sovereign Awards finalists
Horse of the Year
Never Retreat - 78
Inglorious - 76
Pender Harbour - 49

2-Year-Old Filly
Tu Endie Wei - 98
Hard Not to Like - 57
Northern Passion - 55

2-Year-Old Male
Maritimer - 118
Excaper - 73
Prospective - 21

3-Year-Old Filly
Inglorious - 138
Marketing Mix - 68
Smart Sting - 20

3-Year-Old Male
Pender Harbour - 148
Moonshine Mullin - 49
Freedoms Traveller - 29

Older Female, Main Track
Embur’s Song - 132
Stars to Shine - 48
Ariana D - 39

Older Male, Main Track
Fifty Proof - 58
Don Cavallo - 54
James Street - 48

Female Sprinter
Atlantic Hurricane - 131
Embur’s Song - 52
Classic Alley Kat - 25

Male Sprinter
Essence Hit Man - 115
Gypsy Ring - 50
Signature Red - 28

Turf Female
Never Retreat - 142
Miss Keller - 51
Marketing Mix - 42

Turf Male
Musketier - 101
Stormy Lord - 70
Pender Harbour - 34

Jockey
Luis Contreras - 144
Patrick Husbands - 70
Emma-Jayne Wilson - 24

Apprentice Jockey
Ryan Pacheco - 103
Scott Williams - 75
Betty Jo Williams - 49

Trainer
Mark Casse - 114
Roger Attfield - 85
Reade Baker - 15

Owner
Donver Stable - 60
Glen Todd and Patrick Kinsella - 60
Melnyk Racing Stable - 58

Breeder
Gardiner Farm - 94
Adena Springs - 86
Arosa Farm - 29

Broodmare
Noble Strike - 107
Embur Sunshine - 44
Rahy's Hope - 32

News Story
Beverley Smith, Globe and Mail

Feature Story
Jennifer Morrison, Canadian Thoroughbred

Photography
Dave Landry, Canadian Thoroughbred

Film/Video/Broadcast
Shaw TV