07/22/2013 1:47PM

Woodbine notes: So Long George coming into his own

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Michael Burns
So Long George, ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, got his first stakes win in Sunday's Grade 2 Nijinsky.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – So Long George has come a long way since finishing last of eight in a maiden $32,000 claiming race here Nov. 18, 2011.

Last Sunday, the 4-year-old So Long George reached a new plateau when he rallied under Emma-Jayne Wilson to win the Grade 2, $216,000 Nijinsky Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf by three-quarters of a length.

“I thought it was going to be a disaster when we first got him to the track,” said John Charalambous, who trains So Long George for the Up Hill Stable of Leonard Zenith and Irma Deroche. “He was all out to make ‘time’ when we worked him as a 2-year-old, but he showed me that he had a bit of heart in that first race. He was beaten 12 lengths, and the way he was working, he should have been beaten 30.”

So Long George won for the first time when tagged for $47,500 in a one-mile turf race last July and was running for $23,500 and $37,500 tags when he recorded his next two victories.

But there have been no tag days for So Long George since then, and the gelding has really picked up his game this spring, winning under second-level allowance terms over seven furlongs on turf and finishing just a half-length back in fourth in the Grade 2 King Edward at one mile on the E.P. Taylor grass course prior to the Nijinsky.

“He just rises to the occasion,” Charalambous said. “We keep throwing him to the lions, and he keeps battling. It’s amazing how this horse has developed. He has character, personality, and heart, and he seems to be getting better.”

Charalambous had considered entering So Long George under third-level allowance terms here last Friday but was persuaded by Zenith to go to the Nijinsky.

“The owner was persistent,” Charalambous said. “He gave me his reasons, and they made sense.”

And in view of the Nijinsky result, Charalambous will be happy to defer to Zenith’s judgement in the future.

“He can choose the next race, too,” the trainer said.

Leigh Court might try turf

Leigh Court became a stakes winner Sunday when leading throughout the $125,750 Duchess under Gary Boulanger.

The stakes win was the second – and the first at Woodbine – for Boulanger since he returned this winter from an eight-year absence due to serious head injuries suffered in a spill at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30, 2005.

“Gary did a good job relaxing her,” said Josie Carroll, who trains the homebred for Eugene Melnyk and watched her wire the field of 3-year-old fillies by 5 1/2 lengths.

Leigh Court recorded her third win in her sixth career start Sunday. She entered the Duchess off a second-place finish in the 6 1/2-furlong allowance prep June 30.

“We’ve liked her all along,” Carroll said. “The optimum thing with her is relaxing. I don’t know what her distance limitations are off this race.”

Carroll was quick to draw a line through Leigh Court’s first two-turn race, in which she opened up a long lead through fast fractions before tiring to finish fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Selene Stakes in May.

The next open stakes in the 3-year-old filly division here is the Grade 3 Ontario Colleen, a one-mile turf race Aug. 17. And while Leigh Court has no experience on turf, the one-turn mile is enticing.

“It’s certainly something you have to take into consideration,” Carroll said.

Go Greeley changes style

John Ross, who owns and trains Go Greeley, had watched his stable star miss the Victoria Stakes and then wind up a tough-luck second in the Clarendon Stakes after losing valuable training time when his barn was under quarantine last month.

Last Saturday, the cards fell into place for Go Greeley as he was a decisive winner under Eurico Rosa da Silva in the $140,000 Colin Stakes, an open, six-furlong race for 2-year-olds.

The front-running style he displayed was a departure from Go Greeley’s maiden win May 19, when he came from just off the pace, and the Clarendon, in which he broke a step slowly from the No. 1 post and rallied on the outside to lose by a nose.

“He went into the race a little bit sharper – that made the difference,” Ross said of Go Greeley’s effort in the Colin. “I wanted him to break better. He got caught in traffic the last two times.”

Go Greeley’s 1:10.19 Colin clocking yielded a Beyer Speed Figure of 80, the best this year for a 2-year-old.

As an Ontario-bred, Go Greeley is eligible for the $150,000 Vandal Stakes, a six-furlong race here Aug. 11, and Ross will see how his charge comes out of the Colin before deciding on his next step.

In the meantime, Ross is planning to run Lexie Lou in the $125,000 Nandi Stakes, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies here Aug. 3. Lexie Lou, also owned by Ross, won her 4 1/2-furlong debut in Ontario-sired company here May 25 but then was eighth of 10 in the 5 1/2-furlong Shady Well for Ontario-breds. Boulanger was aboard for both races.

“I thought she was intimidated a little bit last time,” Ross said. “She was up there early and just kind of hauled herself out of there. I talked to Gary, and we decided we’re going to try her with blinkers. I’d like to change her style, try her off the pace a little bit. She deserves another chance, in my opinion. She broke her maiden so brave.”

Mares run well for Casse

Conquest Two Step, coming off a two-length debut win at Churchill Downs, was the odds-on favorite in the Colin but finished 2 1/2 lengths back in second after taking a run at Go Greeley and getting within 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole.

“The interesting thing is the winner ran the second quarter in 22.80, which means my horse probably went in 22.60,” trainer Mark Casse said. “That might have been his demise, but he didn’t look comfortable to me. I saw enough of him on [Polytrack]. I’m putting him on a van for Kentucky.”

Casse did win a stakes later Saturday with Sisterly Love, whom he trains for Gary Barber. That mare led throughout the Grade 3, $151,500 Ontario Matron with da Silva in the irons and won by 3 1/2 lengths.

And just for good measure, Casse saddled the second-place finisher, the 6-year-old Eagle Hall, for owner and breeder Melnyk.

“Eagle Hall has turned out to be quite the little horse,” Casse said. “She’s just a hard knocker. She brings her game every time.”

Eagle Hall was making her stakes debut in the Ontario Matron and came into the race off back-to-back scores when in for the $62,500 price in second-level optional-claiming races here.

As for Sisterly Love, her win in the Ontario Matron yielded a 92 Beyer, equaling the figure she earned in winning the 1 1/16-mile Trillium Stakes here June 8.

The next open, two-turn stakes here for the filly and mare division is the Aug. 25 Belle Mahone, a 1 1/16-mile race that is an overnight stakes and would require a field of at least five to be carded.

◗ Delegation, the impressive winner of the 1 1/4-mile Dominion Day Stakes for Casse and Barber here July 1, remains on target for the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic at the same distance on Del Mar’s Polytrack surface Aug. 25.

“I’ll try and get him out there at least 10 days ahead of time,” Casse said.