05/10/2012 1:31PM

Woodbine notes: Slow-growing grass delays opening of turf course

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Michael Burns
Queenston Stakes winner Beeker Street has been supplemented to the Queen’s Plate.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Horsemen and horseplayers who were looking forward to the first grass races of the meeting will have to wait.

Turf racing was scheduled to begin this weekend, with the 6 1/2-furlong prep for the Connaught Cup in the condition book for Saturday and the one-mile prep for the Nassau among Sunday’s offerings.

The opening of the E.P. Taylor Course has been put on hold, however, with the best-case scenario being just a one-week delay.

“The turf just did not respond this spring,” said Steve Koch, vice president of Thoroughbred racing for the Woodbine Entertainment Group.

“The turf is very thin; it has not grown well.”

Irwin Driedger, Woodbine’s director of Thoroughbred racing surfaces, echoed Koch’s comments.

“The grass is just starting to grow,” Driedger said. “Up until last Sunday, it hadn’t done anything. It just hasn’t been warm enough to get it started. We’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer.”

In the meantime, the Connaught Cup prep was switched to 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track and attracted a field of seven.

The Nassau prep, switched to one mile and 70 yards on the main track, did not attract enough entrants to be carded.

The Grade 2 Connaught Cup, a seven-furlong race for 4-year-olds and up that is worth $150,000, is scheduled to be the meeting’s first turf stakes on May 27.

The Grade 2 Nassau, a one-mile turf race for fillies and mares that offers a $300,000 purse, goes June 2.

In the interim, the seven-furlong turf training course is scheduled to open Wednesday, May 23.

Turf training, as long as the weather cooperates, is to be available on Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m; Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; and Sundays, from 9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Queen’s Plate nominees down to 50

The updated list of nominees for both the June 24 Queen’s Plate and the June 3 Woodbine Oaks were released Thursday.

The 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate, which had 117 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds remaining eligible as of the Feb. 1 payment stage, had that number whittled to 50 after payments of $1,000 at the final nomination stage May 1.

The 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks had 78 Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies eligible as of Feb. 1 and 41 as of May 1.

Supplementary nominations for the Queen’s Plate also were available May 1 at a cost of $5,000, and Beeker Street, Molinaro Jewel, and Washington Dash took advantage of that option.

Beeker Street, a homebred who races for Donver Stable and is trained by Josie Carroll, is 2 for 2, with both starts coming here over seven furlongs and the latest being last Saturday’s Queenston Stakes.

The other supplements, Molinaro Jewel and Washington Dash, are maidens.

Molinaro Jewel, a homebred who races for Molinaro Stable and is trained by Vito Armata, has raced five times and was pulled up in his most recent appearance against Ontario-sired maiden opposition.

Washington Dash, based at Keeneland with trainer Darrin Miller, finished sixth in his debut over seven furlongs of Polytrack there April 22.

Horses can still be supplemented to the Queen’s Plate at a cost of $25,000 and to the Woodbine Oaks for $12,500 on entry day.

Plate hopeful Prince Raphael takes on elders

The open Marine Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds, will be in the spotlight here Saturday and has attracted Queen’s Plate hopefuls Incredicat, Classic Bryce, and Strait of Dover.

Queen’s Plate nominees also will make appearances in two first-level allowance races on the program, with Prince Raphael and Colleen’s Sailor slated to face older rivals in the 1 1/16-mile fifth race and Shakespeare’s Brew and Soda On the Side traveling seven furlongs against fellow sophomores in the sixth.

Prince Raphael, a son of Shakespeare who is trained by Debbie England, will be making his second start of the season after running third in a first-level allowance at seven furlongs here April 21.

“I thought he ran well,” England said. “He made up a lot of ground down the stretch, and they were going pretty fast on end.

“He’s still a bit young, a bit immature racing-wise.

Prince Raphael had raced twice at 2, finishing third over six furlongs of turf and then scoring convincingly over seven furlongs of Polytrack.

England had entered Prince Rafael in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, but elected to scratch the colt.

“There really wasn’t anything wrong with him,” England said. “Physically, he was just a little bit immature.

“I really like him a lot, and I wanted to give him time. He went to Classic Mile in November and came back here in March. He’s doing really well now.”

England had considered running Prince Raphael in the Marine, but is happy with her decision to go in Saturday’s allowance, where her charge will break from the inside post in a field of 0.

“He doesn’t care about anything; he’s really good that way,” England said. “Things don’t bother him in the least.

“And, every indication shows me that he wants to go two turns. Saturday will tell us a lot.”

Shakespeare’s Brew, also by Shakespeare, raced just once at 2, winning impressively over six furlongs of turf here Aug. 28.

“He’d worked well on everything, but he worked exceptionally well on turf,” trainer Kevin Attard said. “He moved a bit better on it.”

Unfortunately, Shakespeare’s Brew went to the sidelines shortly thereafter.

“He had a little problem, and we had to give him time,” said Attard, who had Shakespeare’s Brew at Gulfstream Park until early April.

“His last few workouts have been really good. He seems to be ready and poised.

“Obviously, if things go well, we’ll look at the Queen’s Plate. Depending on how he runs Saturday, we’ll map out something for him.”

◗ Sunday’s $150,000 Selene, which is a Grade 3 stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, attracted a field of six.

The Selene is positioned as a stepping-stone to the Woodbine Oaks, but Dixie Strike is the only member of the field who is Canadian-bred.

Tu Endie Wei will be the filly to catch in a lineup that includes locally based Katie Get Excited and Hilda’s Legacy and shippers Wait Til Dawn and Indyniable.