07/22/2011 12:57PM

Woodbine: Fifty Proof big threat as lone speed in Nijinsky

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Michael Burns
Fifty Proof will get a rider switch to Luis Contreras for Sunday's Nijinsky Stakes.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – The imposing Fifty Proof picks up leading rider Luis Contreras for Sunday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Nijinsky Stakes, and is the only confirmed front-runner in the nine-furlong event on the expansive Woodbine turf course.

Fifty Proof was thought to be a turf expert before capturing his first two outings of the year on Polytrack, including the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes. Most recently on the grass in the Grade 2 King Edward Stakes, he set a moderate pace before giving way gradually to Court of the Realm, who was winning his fifth consecutive race.

Trainer Ian Black said he thought Fifty Proof ran his usual honest race in the one-mile King Edward.

“I couldn’t fault anything,” Black said. “He tried hard. The other horse just came and beat him.”

Black said Fifty Proof has worked super since the King Edward. He breezed five furlongs in 59.20 seconds under Contreras on July 10, and went an easy five-eighths in 1:01.20 under exercise rider Tyler Gaskin on July 18.

Black said the prospect of a hard course for Sunday should be ideal for Fifty Proof, who raced over a course labeled good in the King Edward and when he finished fifth in last year’s Grade 1 Canadian International.

“When it was a little softer, I think it didn’t help him,” Black recalled.

Justin Stein has ridden Fifty Proof in all 13 of his races, but the much sought-after Contreras should be an adequate fit for the massive chestnut.

Musketier, a long-distance specialist trained by Roger Attfield, has a win from four career starts over nine furlongs. With 2 wins from 5 starts, he has been as good as ever this year at age 9.

Musketier placed in two graded stakes over the winter at Gulfstream, before taking the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland. He overcame a slow pace to capture another 1 1/2-mile stakes here most recently, the Grade 3 Singspiel.

Trainer Mark Casse entered Hailstone and Silver Rock, who finished fifth and ninth, respectively, in the King Edward.

The improving Hailstone was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths in the King Edward, after rallying inside from 10 lengths back. This will be his first race with blinkers.

“We put blinkers on him recently, and he’s trained extremely well,” Casse said. “I think he’s gotten better and better. Being by City Zip, you would think that he’d be more of a sprinter, but he seems to like a little more ground. He’s a half-brother to Woodbine Mile winner Court Vision.”

Casse said a wide trip under Shaun Bridgmohan in the King Edward worked against stretch runner Silver Rock, who won back-to-back allowances in Kentucky during the spring.

“We wanted him to come around horses, and I think Shaun ended up being a lot wider than he wanted to,” Casse explained. “They had taken down the [temporary rail], and he was out on the toughest part of the turf. Speed held up pretty well, and he needs something to come running at.”

Windward Islands, who won last year’s Nijinsky over yielding ground, finished a troubled third last time out in the Singspiel.