06/24/2012 2:46PM

Woodbine: Long absent Smokey Fire upsets Highlander at 17-1

Michael Burns
The 7-year-old Smokey Fire, racing for the first time since October 2010, rallies to take the Grade 2 Highlander under Eurico Da Silva.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario — Smokey Fire, a 17-1 comebacker trained by Sid Attard, stormed down the center of the course to take the $236,400 Highlander Stakes on the Queen’s Plate undercard at Woodbine on Sunday.

Essence Hit Man, Canada’s reigning champion sprinter, set quick fractions of  21.93 and  43.83 seconds in the six-furlong turf sprint. Smokey Fire, who was well back on the turn, emerged from traffic in midstretch to close in the final furlong, and got home on top by 1 1/4  lengths, in a rapid 1:07.77.

Essence Hit Man nosed out a closing Gypsy Ring for second in the Grade 2 race. Second choice Fiddlers Patriot was fourth, and favored Surfrider trailed a field reduced to nine with the scratch of Signature Red, who won the last two editions of the Highlander for Attard. 

Smokey Fire ($37.50) went to the sidelines in the fall of 2010 with a check ligament problem, and missed all of 2011. He began working again last winter at  Fair Grounds, before shipping back to Woodbine via Keeneland.

“He was ready to run a month ago,” said Attard. “We just couldn’t get him in.”

Top turf rider Eurico Da Silva rode Smokey Fire, who banked $144,000 for Jim Dandy Stable.

“I just paid attention to my horse,” said Da Silva. “He was running very focused. I just wanted to kick when I got clear, and when I was clear, he kicked very strong. He ran a great race.”