05/30/2011 1:19PM

Woodbine: Stormy Lord makes the best of soft times

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Woodbine management was caught between a rock and a soft place here Sunday morning. To turf, or not to turf – that was the question. And when the beating of the drums had ceased, the Connaught Cup was kept on the grass and the eight-horse field was cut in half.

The Connaught Cup, a seven-furlong race, was run over a course rated soft and the winner was Stormy Lord.

A 4-year-old gelding who is housed in the barn of trainer Ian Black, Stormy Lord races for owner David Willmot and the Hat Trick Stable of Woodbine board of director member Doug Murphy and a group of his fellow graduates from the Harvard School of Business. Stormy Lord, bred in Ontario by Willmot’s Kinghaven Farm, was one of the top 3-year-old turf horses on the grounds last year but was making his first start since finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs last Nov. 13. His three victims Sunday included Grand Adventure, who had won the Grade 2 Connaught Cup last spring en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion male turf horse for trainer Mark Frostad and Sam-Son Farm.

“I thought Mark’s horse was definitely the quality of the field,” said Black. “My horse had stayed with 3-year-olds last year. He never ran against older horses, even when he went out of town.”

Stormy Lord was the man of the hour in the $168,900 Connaught Cup, however, as he controlled the pace under jockey Jim McAleney and repelled a challenge by the 2-5 Grand Adventure en route to a three-length victory.

“When I saw Mark’s horse looming up on him, I thought we were in trouble,” said Black. “But, he kicked on.”

Grand Adventure stalled, winding up a half-length behind runner-up Hailstone, and will be given a thorough going-over before his immediate future is determined. Stormy Lord, on the other hand, has been penciled in for more lucrative dates here in either the $250,000 King Edward or the $200,000 Highlander. Both turf stakes offer Grade 2 status, with the King Edward scheduled for one mile on June 25 and the Highlander for six furlongs on Queen’s Plate Day, June 26.

Fifty Proof coming into his own

Black was completing a sweep of the weekend stakes with Stormy Lord after Fifty Proof got the money in Saturday’s $171,900 Eclipse.

Fifty Proof staked his claim to fame last year as a long-distance turf horse, racing well in the Northern Dancer and Canadian International and earning an invitation to Tokyo for the Japan Cup. Now, Fifty Proof has added another arrow to his quiver as he recorded his second win in as many tries on Polytrack this spring and became a stakes winner in the Grade 3 Eclipse.

“He’s just an awesome horse,” said Justin Stein, who has ridden Fifty Proof in each of his 12 starts. “He can run on anything, and he can run with almost any horse. Everything you throw at him, he just shows up. He gets better every time. He’s really developed. Mentally, he wants to win. He knows he can be there.”

For Black, Fifty Proof’s development last year was little short of miraculous.

“He went from winning a ‘one-other-than’ to a Grade 1, $750,000 stakes race,” said Black, looking back on Fifty Proof’s second-place finish over 1 1/2 miles in the Northern Dancer. “That was a huge step.”

While Stein believes that Fifty Proof has become equally effective on Polytrack, Black is not yet convinced.

“It’s too early to say, but it certainly gives us options,” said Black. ”He ‘s maturing, settling down, and he has tactical speed. That’s a great asset.”

Black now has the luxury of looking at three potential spots for Fifty Proof’s next appearance. Fifty Proof could resurface in the $125,000 Steady Growth, a 1 1/16 mile race for Ontario-sired horses on June 19, in the King Edward, or in the Grade 3, $200,000 Dominion Day, at 1 1/4 miles on the main track here July 1.

Southdale a question mark

Southdale, a homebred 5-year-old gelding whom Black trains for owner Rod Ferguson, was beaten 3 1/4 lengths as the fifth-place finisher in the Eclipse after ending last of five in his seasonal debut, the seven-furlong Vigil.

“He ran better this time – it wasn’t that bad a race,” said Black. “But what we do off that, I’m not 100 percent sure. I don’t have a lot of options.”

Southdale had become a stakes winner in last year’s Eclipse but then finished third, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, as the favorite in the Dominion Day.

“It looked like it was a little further than his best,” said Black. “I wouldn’t mind finding a dirt race somewhere, to try him on that.”

Oaks shippers move in

Grand Style and Marketing Mix, both of whom are candidates for Sunday’s $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, checked into the barn of trainer Mike Doyle here early Monday morning.

Based in Kentucky with Rusty Arnold, Grand Style shipped up to Doyle last year to win the 1 1/16 mile Princess Elizabeth then finished fourth in the Ontario Lassie over the same distance. Grand Style has started just once this year, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Ashland over 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland on April 9, and was scratched from a subsequent engagement there because of a minor illness.

Last Saturday, Grand Style breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Churchill in her final major tune-up for the Woodbine Oaks, a 1 1/8 mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Marketing Mix, trained by Tom Proctor, will be making just her fourth career start in the Woodbine Oaks after finishing a closing second behind Roxy Gap in the seven-furlong Fury here April 30.

***Charismatically, who was claimed for $32,000 from a third-place finish here May 21, breezed four furlongs in 48.40 seconds here Monday and is under consideration for the Oaks.

“She worked on a positive note,” said trainer Sam DiPasquale, after watching Charismatically go in company with her talented 3-year-old sprinting stablemate I Fly High. “To have 30 days to the race would have been beautiful. It’s still up in the air whether she’ll run or not