06/04/2012 11:40AM

Woodbine: Irish Mission sets sights on Queen's Plate after Woodbine Oaks win

Michael Burns
Woodbine Oaks winner Irish Mission could make her next start in the Queen's Plate against males.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – There was more than a touch of irony in conjunction with Irish Mission’s victory in Sunday’s $500,000 Woodbine Oaks for trainer Mark Frostad.

Frostad had sent out Woodbine Oaks winners Catch the Ring (2000), Dancethruthedawn (2001), and Eye of the Sphynx (2004) after hooking up with the Sam-Son Farm outfit in 1994. But that association came to an end prior to the start of the current meeting, and Frostad seemed to be facing a rebuilding year as a public trainer.

But then Irish Mission, a Sam-Son homebred who had been a $375,000 yearling purchase at Saratoga by owner Robert S. Evans upon Frostad’s recommendation, began coming into her own.

Irish Mission is out of a mare, Misty Mission, who had thwarted Frostad’s bid for a triple tiara when she defeated Sam-Son stablemate Catch the Ring here in the 2000 Wonder Where Stakes. Frostad owns an Oaks-Plate double, with Dancethruthedawn.

Frostad, however, is not looking back. Instead, he is looking forward to the June 24 Queen’s Plate, the 1 1/4-mile race in which Irish Mission would face males.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” Frostad said.

Woodbine Oaks winners have fared extremely well in recent editions of the Queen’s Plate, with Inglorious pulling off the double last year, Roan Inish third behind Big Red Mike and Hotep in 2010, Milwaukee Appeal third behind Eye of the Leopard and Mr. Foricos to U in 2008, and Ginger Brew just missing as the runner-up to Not Bourbon in 2008.

Irish Mission’s other option would be to bypass the Queen’s Plate and run in the $250,000 Bison City, a 1 1/16-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies here July 1.

“The Bison City at a mile and a sixteenth – shorter than the Oaks – actually might be a tougher race for her than going a mile and a quarter,” Frostad said. ‘She showed she had a pretty nice cruising speed in the Oaks.”

Irish Mission, under new rider Alex Solis, had pressed a moderate pace in the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks and held sway for a three-quarter-length victory over a rallying Northern Passion. The filly had come into the Woodbine Oaks off solid back-to-back turf outings at Keeneland, including a maiden win in her latest April 26.

Frostad, however, had not been particularly concerned about moving Irish Mission back to the Polytrack surface on which she had been unplaced in four outings last year.

“You look at the record of her sire, Giant’s Causeway, on Polytrack – he might be one of the top three or four in the world,” Frostad said. “She’s a big filly, 17 hands, and grass was easier on her.

“I thought she was going to run well, and she did. And I loved the way she galloped out.”

“It took her quite a few starts to get the hang of it – she has the hang of it now.”

Northern Passion eyes Bison City

Northern Passion, one of three horses in the Woodbine Oaks trained by Mark Casse along with Dixie Strike and Black Bird Rock, rallied to be second under rider Luis Contreras.

“I thought Northern Passion ran well,” said Casse, who trains the filly for John Oxley. “The track was so fast, but the early fractions were pretty slow.

“Luis came back and was very upset; he thought he should have won the race. He kind of had to veer out at the top of the lane, and that probably cost him a little momentum.

“She tries very hard; I love her. She’ll probably come back in to the Bison City.”

Blackbird Rock finished fourth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths when making just her third career start and stakes debut in the Woodbine Oaks.

“She’s a very talented filly,” Casse said. “With some racing, I think you’re going to hear about her.”

Dixie Strike, coming off a very impressive win in the 1 1/16-mile Selene Stakes on May 13, was the odds-on choice under her regular rider Patrick Husbands but finished fifth.

“Patrick said she just wasn’t the same horse he rode three weeks ago,” Casse said. “He couldn’t get her to focus, which is a problem we’ve had with her before. She switched leads a bunch.

“We’ll probably skip the Queen’s Plate and maybe look at the Prince of Wales. She trains really good on dirt.”

The $500,000 Prince of Wales, the 1 3/16-mile race that follows the Queen’s Plate as the second leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, will be run at Fort Erie on July 15.

Awesome Fire runs big in Oaks

Awesome Fire, beaten less than a length at 35-1 as the third-place finisher in the Woodbine Oaks, gave her backers and connections a thrill when taking a serious run at the leaders in midstretch.

“She ran dynamite,” said Martha Gonzalez, wife and assistant to Nick Gonzalez, who trains Awesome Fire for owner Hugh Sutherland. “If I’m more seasoned, I know I’m second.

“I’d wanted to get another race into her in Florida, and she didn’t get much out of the one she had down there.”

Gonzalez will look at the Bison City on Awesome Fire’s behalf, but notes that she has other options.

Dene Court wins battle in Alywow

Dene Court got the money for Casse, Husbands, and owner/breeder Eugene Melnyk in Sunday’s $116,000 Alywow, a 6 1/2-furlong overnight turf stakes for fillies and mares.

“It seems like she’s a talented horse,” Casse said. “The turf had some give to it, and she had a lot of fight in her.”

Dene Court had battled throughout the Alywow, an overnight stakes for 3-year-old fillies that was run on a course listed as good, and prevailed by a neck in a four-horse photo finish.

“I think she could be a future star,” said Casse, who pointed to the July 7 Ontario Damsel, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old Ontario-bred fillies that is worth $150,000, as Dene Court’s next logical target.

Tui Endie Wei, the odds-on Alywow favorite, was prominent early, but faltered to finish last of six.

“She’s good; she just didn’t want any part of that track,” Reade Baker, Tu Endie Wei’s trainer, said Monday morning.

Baker, who trains the Kentucky-bred for her owner and breeder Brereton C. Jones, said that Tu Endie Wei should make her next appearance in the July 7 Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont.

The Victory Ride, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies, offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $150,000.