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Leading rider Eurico Da Silva led all jockeys during the eight days of racing from May 5-16, winning aboard 12 of his 47 rides. Chantal Sutherland moved into fourth in the standings, scoring on nine of her 44 mounts.
Da Silva is serving a suspension this weekend, but he has obtained an exemption for the La Lorgnette Stakes on Sunday so that he can pilot Biofuel in the $150,000 event.
Trainers Bob Tiller and Roger Attfield posted identical 5-for-17 records from May 5-16. Tiller was tied atop the standings with Steve Asmussen through last Sunday, when they were both 12-for-48 at the meet.
Other hot trainers during the first half of May included Terry Jordan, Mike Pino, Gail Cox, Mark Frostad and John Leblanc Jr.
A virus has been going through the Woodbine backstretch, which has many horses coughing, with mucus in their lungs. Sometimes, the sickness doesn't show up until after a horse has competed, so you if see an uncharacteristically dull effort from a horse in May, it might be wise to throw that race out.
Hollywood Hit earned the highest Beyer Figure in a sprint this year in North America (114) when he shattered the seven-furlong Polytrack record in his decisive score May 9 in the Grade 3 Vigil Stakes.
Hollywood Hit went right to the front the Vigil, and set wind-aided fractions of 22.08 and 43.72 while being stalked by Fatal Bullet, the 2008 Canadian Horse of the Year and champion sprinter. Hollywood Hit began to draw off in the final furlong en route to a three-length win in 1:20.07, which was .44 of a second faster than the previous record set by Disfunction in 2008.
"He's just an awesome horse," said trainer Terry Jordan. "I've never been around one like him before, and he seems to be getting better."
Hollywood Hit is owned by Peter Redekop, who also owns one of the fastest 3-year-olds on the continent, Comedero, who was an easy winner in the Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico last Saturday.
Essence Hit Man romped in the $150,400 Queenston Stakes last Saturday, scoring in rapid time in the seven-furlong sprint for Ontario-bred 3-year-olds.
With the wind at his back, Essence Hit Man set slow fractions of 23.38 and 45.38 under Sutherland, before drawing away in the final furlong to prevail by six lengths in 1:20.94. He was coming off a workmanlike win in the six-furlong Woodstock Stakes.
Hotep kicked in nicely through the stretch en route to notching his first stakes win May 8 in the 1 1/16-mile Wando, a prep for the Queen's Plate. Hotep covered the distance in 1:43.55 under Patrick Husbands, who made an early move with him on the backstretch. They went on to score by 3 1/4 lengths. He received an 85 Beyer.
Trainer Mark Frostad said Hotep ran spotty over the winter on the dirt at the Fair Grounds.
"He finally ran like we expected him to run," said Frostad. "Patrick said he wanted to go, so he had to take him back and get him to relax, and finally he did relax. He saved him, and came on at the end."
The Polytrack played fair from May 5-16. One pundit suggested that a speed bias was in existence last Saturday, when front-runners won four of the eight main track races, but two of those winners set slow fractions with the wind at their back, including Essence Hit Man.
When sizing up a possible bias on this Polytrack, I've found that it's best to err on the side of caution and ignore anything that is borderline, because guessing wrong can be a costly mistake in subsequent handicapping decisions.
Grass racing recently returned to Woodbine, which means many large fields of intriguing and sometimes indecipherable races. The first turf event of the meet last Saturday, the seven-furlong allowance prep for the Grade 3 Connaught Cup Stakes, was won by the seemingly outclassed 69-1 shot Major Marvel.
The European-style E.P. Taylor turf course, which encircles the main track, is 1 1/2 miles in circumference. Its stretch, at 1,440 feet, is the longest of any track on the continent. The course can be divided into five lanes, with the innermost lane saved primarily for the days on which major stakes are staged, such as the Canadian International and Woodbine Mile.
Speed tends to be more effective when the portable rail is placed in lanes 4 and 5 while closers have the advantage when the entire course is utilized. The rail was in lane 4 (45 feet out on the turn) when Major Marvel scored in front-running style on Saturday.
Some of the better Ontario sires on turf include the deceased Ascot Knight, along with Bold Executive, Bold N' Flashy, Crown Attorney, Trajectory and Tejano Run and Best of the Bests, whose first Ontario-sired crop are 2-year-olds.
The freshman Ontario sires who are worth following on the grass include Strut the Stage, Old Forester, Philanthropist, Survivalist and Niigon.
QUEEN'S PLATE TOP 10
The 151st running of the $1 million Queen's Plate, arguably Canada's most prestigious race, will be run at Woodbine July 4. The 1 1/4-mile fixture is restricted to Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, and has been won by such standouts as Northern Dancer, Awesome Again and Dance Smartly. These are my top ten contenders for the race:
1. Hotep: A full-brother to last year's Plate winner, Eye of the Leopard, he snapped out of a slump in the Wando Stakes. The son of A.P. Indy is one of three Sam-Son Farm homebreds on the list, along with Giant's Tomb and Dark Cloud Dancer.
2. Hollinger: The reigning Canadian champion 2-year-old suffered his first loss in his season debut last Saturday, when he was a fading fourth in the Queenston Stakes. That race should set him up adequately for a two-turn engagement like the nine-furlong Plate Trial Stakes.
3. Giant's Tomb: Son of 1997 Plate winner Awesome Again has six two-turn races on his resume, and he appears to want to run all day.
4. D's Wando: Was a charging second in his season debut in the Woodstock Stakes, and then closed belatedly for third in the Queenston before galloping out well. He appears to be a genuine stayer, like his sire, Wando, who captured the Canadian Triple Crown in 2003.
5. Ghost Fleet: Won two stakes at 2 before ending up fourth behind Hollinger and D's Wando in the nine-furlong Coronation Futurity in November. He checked in second in the Queenston following a six-month layoff.
6. Mobilizer: Graduated with determination second-time out in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special May 8. Stronach Stable runner is well-regarded by his trainer, Roger Attfield, who also trains Hollinger.
7. Dark Cloud Dancer: Won his maiden second-time out traveling seven furlongs last Sunday, earning a respectable 85 Beyer. Son of Storm Cat is out of 2001 Plate winner Dancethruthedawn.
8. Artic Fern: Defeated Dark Cloud Dancer while graduating in a rapid maiden special (90 Beyer) in his second start April 17. Langfuhr gelding is out of a full-sister to 1999 Plate winner Woodcarver.
9. Roan Inish: Woodbine Oaks contender is coming off a runner-up placing behind favored Resentless in her season debut in the Fury Stakes.
10. Essence Hit Man: Crack sprinter isn't eligible for the Plate, but he could be supplemented to the race at the time of entry for $25,000. Son of champion sprinter Speightstown has never run beyond seven furlongs, and is questionable over longer route distances.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Ian Black
Last race: May 16, 4th
Finish: 6th by 4 1/2
Steady stakes winner was bottled up in traffic along the inside on the turn and through the stretch in the allowance prep for the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes.
Trainer: Malcolm Pierce>
Last race: May 16, 6th
Finish: 3rd by 5 3/4
She met a quality field in the Grade 3 Hendrie Stakes, which included champion Tribal Belle and Grade 1 winner Dr. Zic, and ran evenly for third in her first outing in six months. She should be much fitter for the experience.
Trainer: Mac Benson
Last race: May 14, 6th
Finish: 4th by 2 1/4
He broke slowly before racing behind a pedestrian pace in the allowance prep for the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes and didn t disgrace himself in his first appearance in nearly seven months.
Trainer: Ricky Griffith
Last race: May 12, 3rd
Finish: 6th by 3 3/4
This aptly named colt ran very greenly in his debut, during which he made a premature wide move for the lead on the backstretch before tiring in the final furlong.