08/27/2012 2:56PM

Woodbine: Big Band Sound finally breaks through in Play the King

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Michael Burns
After finishing second in four stakes at the Woodbine meet, Big Band Sound wins the Grade 2 Play the King Sunday under Tyler Pizarro.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Big Band Sound had played second fiddle in his first four stakes appearances of the meeting, ending the runner-up on each occasion. But Big Band Sound took center stage in a big way here last Sunday with an emphatic 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2, $202,400 Play the King Stakes under his regular rider Tyler Pizarro.

Trainer Danny Vella said he had not been concerned with Big Band Sound’s runner-up finishes having become a habit.

“I’d never thought in any of those races that he’d hesitated at any point,” he said. “It was just that things worked out that way.”

Following the June 24 King Edward, in which Big Band Sound was beaten a neck by Riding the River, Vella elected to give his hard-knocking 5-year-old horse a bit of a breather.

“He ran so hard those first four races,” said Vella, who conditions Big Band Sound for Kendel Standlee. “Hopefully you’re doing the right thing, freshening him. It doesn’t always work, but it seemed to work here.”

Still, it’s not as if the Play the King, a seven-furlong turf race which is the final local stakes stepping-stone to the Sept. 16 Woodbine Mile, was an easy spot for Big Band Sound, and a troubled trip made it that much tougher.

“There was no real hole for him at the top of the stretch,” said Vella. “He had to wait a little bit to get out. We’d tried to avoid being way out of it. The turf’s pretty hard, and it’s hard to rally.”

Now, Big Band Sound has earned a shot at the Grade 1, $1 million Woodbine Mile.

“He’s the real deal, this horse,” said Vella. “We have to give him this chance to get to the next level.”

Riding the River game in defeat

Riding the River, seeking his third straight Grade 2 turf stakes victory, rallied from last in the Play the King field of nine to finish second despite being blocked at the head of the stretch.

“I thought he ran great,” said trainer and part-owner Dave Cotey, who had sent out the 5-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding Riding the River to win the King Edward then the 1 1/8 mile Nijinsky. “It’s not easy cutting a horse back from a mile and an eighth to seven furlongs. But, Danny’s horse deserved to win. He’s been knocking on the door all year. I’m very fine with it.”

Riding the River’s effort earned him a second shot at the Woodbine Mile after he finished fifth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, in last year’s running.

The $40,000 earned by Riding the River, plus Cotey’s share of the $33,540 collected by maiden winner Mercenary in Sunday’s first race comes at a convenient juncture. On Monday, Cotey begins a 15-day suspension, ending Sept. 10, because his entrant Tardy to the Party tested positive for the Class 4 medication Diclofenac, a cream used to treat inflammation.

Tardy to the Party, who finished second in the ninth race here June 29, has been disqualified for all purposes excepting parimutuel wagering.

Cotey also will have to pay a fine of $1,000 upon the completion of his suspension.

The Play the King favorite Smokey Fire finished last under regular rider Eurico Rosa Da Silva after dropping out of contention in midstretch. Smokey Fire jogged past the wire and back to be unsaddled without any apparent problem.

“He came back fine, and he’s fine this morning,” said Jamie Attard, son and assistant to Smokey Fire’s trainer, Sid Attard. “It looked like he got bumped around and Da Silva was pulling him up just to be on the safe side.”

Colonial Flag represents Matz well

Trainer Michael Matz has a surfeit of talented 3-year-old turf fillies and had nominated Assateague, Colonial Flag, Somali Lemonade, and Welcome Dance to last Saturday’s $161,300 Ontario Colleen Stakes. Only Colonial Flag ran, proving one length the best under Joe Rocco Jr. in the Grade 3 Ontario Colleen over one mile of the E.P. Taylor course.

Colonial Flag, based at Maryland’s Fair Hill training center, finished last of eight at Betfair Hollywood Park in the Grade 1 American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles in her race before the Colleen.

“I’d taken her out to California, but she just didn’t like the grass there,” said Matz. “I felt it might be the hard turf and the tight turns. I felt that the turf at Woodbine and the course with the big turn would suit her better.”

Matz said he’s trying to keep his 3-year-old grass fillies apart.

Welcome Miss finished second in the Aug. 18 Dauphin Miss over one mile of soft going at Penn National. Somali Lemonade ended third in the following day’s Grade 2 Lake Placid at 1 1/8 miles on the grass at Saratoga. Assateague is scheduled to run in Friday’s $100,000 Riskaverse, a one-mile turf stakes at Saratoga.

Colonial Flag was the second Woodbine stakes winner for Matz, who sent out Princess Haya to win the Grade 2 Canadian in 2009.

Matz also send out Street Sounds to get the top prize through the disqualification of Sealy Hill in the 2007 Bison City, but that decision later was reversed by the Ontario Racing Commission.

Prepping for out-of-town stakes

Several horses worked on the training turf course here Sunday with an eye toward out-of-town turf stakes over the Labor Day weekend.

Excaper, trained by Ian Black, breezed five furlongs in 59.40 and is on target for Sunday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Saranac, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. Regular rider Emma-Jayne Wilson was aboard for the drill and has the call for the Saranac.

Essence Hit Man, conditioned by Audre Cappuccitti, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20 with his regular rider, Jesse Campbell, in the irons. Campbell has the call on Essence Hit Man for Monday’s Grade 3, $350,000 Turf Monster, a five-furlong dash in Philadelphia which is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

Jenny’s So Great, trained by Greg De Gannes, is slated to compete in the $150,000 Amazon, a five-furlong race for fillies and mares on the same card, with Campbell doing the honors.

Kissable and Ima Soul Miss breezed six furlongs in company in 1:17.20 and are earmarked for Monday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls, a 1 3/8-mile race for fillies and mares at Saratoga.

◗ Jockey David Moran will serve a one-day suspension on Friday and has been fined $300 after the stewards ruled he struck his mount, Nancy O, more than three times in succession during the stretch run of last Saturday’s third race. Nancy O finished second, beaten a half-length.