12/14/2012 2:51PM

Woodbine notes: Season of seconds for Baker

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Michael Burns
Hunters Bay finished second to Wise Dan in his turf debut in the Woodbine Mile.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Reade Baker will wind up the Woodbine meeting as the runner-up in races won, money won, and stakes races won.

So, perhaps it is somewhat fitting that Baker considers the highlight of his campaign to be a second-place finish.

That effort came courtesy of Hunters Bay, who was making his turf debut when he chased home Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on Sept. 16.

Wise Dan returned to win Keeneland’s Grade 1 Shadwell Mile and the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita and will receive serious consideration in the Eclipse Award balloting for Horse of the Year.

Hunters Bay also had been headed for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but bone bruises cut short his campaign and he is beginning the long road back to the races while being hand-walked at Adena Springs North.

“It was very disappointing that we didn’t get to go to the Breeders’ Cup with Hunters Bay,” said Baker, who trains the 5-year-old homebred for Stronach Stable.

Hunters Bay, bred in Kentucky, won the Grade 3 Eclipse and Grade 3 Dominion Day on the main track here and will be front and center in Sovereign Award deliberations.

In the meantime, Baker will be looking to finish the meeting with a flourish as he had four horses in the entries for Saturday and another four for Sunday’s closing-day program.

Then it will be on to Palm Meadows, where Baker has some 20 stalls for clients including Stronach, Danny Dion’s Bear Stable, Jim and Susan Hill, and Brereton C. Jones.

“I plan to do a lot more racing at Gulfstream this year,” said Baker, who started just six horses at the 2011-12 meeting.

Stronach horses slated to see action at Gulfstream include River Rush, a 3-year-old colt who won the Plate Trial here this spring; Benita Blue, a 3-year-old filly who won her maiden here last time out; and the maiden Scipio, who performed encouragingly in his only start.

Dion’s runners in Florida should include Unbridled Bear, a $300,000 2-year-old in training who has picked up minor awards in his two starts here.

Sharp Sensation, a Kentucky-bred 2-year-old colt who races for the Hills, was an impressive winner first crack out at five furlongs here Nov. 30 and is a candidate for the Jan. 1 Spectacular Bid Stakes.

Morrison rides first winner

Christmas came early for Katy Morrison, as the 25-year-old apprentice rider registered her first career victory here Friday aboard 8-1 shot Monetary Merv.

“It feels pretty damn good,” Morrison said Friday morning while on her way north to the farm where she works preparing ex-racehorses for new careers.

“I sell them as show horses and Western pleasure horses,” Morrison said. “It gives them something else to do with their lives.”

Morrison, born and raised in Mississauga, grew up around horses and had her introduction to the racetrack through trainer Jim Ensom.

“He’d coached me in hockey,” Morrison said. “He was taking a horse to Fort Erie, and he needed somebody to cool out the horse after the race. I went, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Morrison quickly worked her way up the ranks, walking and grooming before getting her first job galloping horses for trainer Mike Wright Sr. at age 16.

“I’ve worked for a lot of people,” Morrison said, mentioning Roger Attfield, Reade Baker, and Chiefswood Stable among her Ontario employers along with Michael Matz one winter in Florida. “Everywhere I worked, I just tried to get all the experience I could,” said Morrison, who eventually took out her assistant trainer’s license and spent a couple of years here with trainer Hank Gensler.

This summer, Morrison decided it was time to try her hand in the race-riding profession.

“I figured I’d been here 10 years, galloping, and it was my turn to give it a try,” Morrison said. “It seemed like everybody else was trying it out. It was either going to work, or it wasn’t. I just decided to give it a shot.”

Morrison finished fifth with her first mount here Sept. 21. Her next eight rides came at Fort Erie, and Monetary Merv, trained by Julia Samulak, was the 19th mount of her career.

“Everybody’s been really helpful,” said Morrison, who plans to spend the winter with family, here and in Vancouver. “This will be the first winter I’ve taken off.”

Quaesitor goes long in Valedictory

Quaesitor has been a solid competitor this year, winning three of seven starts while adding a fourth-place finish in Fort Erie’s Prince of Wales and a third here in the Breeders’.

On Sunday, Quaesitor will be looking for his first stakes win when he goes postward in the Grade 3, $175,000 Valedictory, which at 1 3/4 miles is the longest stakes race of the meeting.

“He’s training very well,” said Ian Howard, who trains the homebred Quaesitor for the Wayward Stable of his mother, Nancy Howard; sister, Gillian Howard; and Donald Ross. “For a horse that’s been going strong as long as he has been, there’s not many that would take as much training as he has. He’s in as good shape physically as he’s ever been.”

Quaesitor is coming into the Valedictory off a third-place finish in the Valedictory prep, a 1 1/2-mile allowance race here Nov. 23. Peyton and Get A Grip, the top two there, also are returning for the main event.

“Maybe the pace was too slow, and it would have been better to just go on with him,” Howard said. “Now, we’ll see if he can go an extra quarter-mile. I think he’ll get the distance, but the hard part with him is to get him to change his leads, and he’ll have one more turn he’s going to have to do that on.”

Howard, who generally winters his stock in Florida, will be putting his immediate plans on hold this year due to the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the racing industry here.

“I’ll probably turn the horses out for a month and then figure out if it’s going to be worth going down there,” Howard said.