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Woodbine: Team Block finds winner's circle with Never Retreat
ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Never Retreat had finished second in each of her first two trips to Woodbine, which came in last fall’s River Memories and the Nassau Stakes here June 4. But the third time was the charm for Never Retreat on Sunday as she reported home 1 1/4 lengths the best in the Dance Smartly, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares that offered Grade 2 status and a purse of $301,400.
Never Retreat, a Kentucky-bred 6-year-old, was the second Woodbine winner for jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, but the first for her owners Team Block, whose five previous entrants here also included last year’s Belle Mahone runner-up Askbut I Wont’tell.
“We’ve been a bridesmaid up here four times, so it’s nice to get to the winner’s circle,” said Dave Block, who is the ownership side of Team Block along with his wife, Pat.
One of their sons, Chris Block, is the outfit’s trainer at the racetrack, while another, Ryan Block, runs their Illinois farm, Team Block North.
Never Retreat has been part of the family since August 2009 and has made 19 starts for Team Block. The Dance Smartly was her sixth win, with the last five coming in stakes, and she also has finished second six times and third three times during that span.
“She’s very consistent, and she loves to compete,” Dave Block said. “You can’t keep her on the ground between races. Once we got her figured out, what to do between races, she’s been great.”
Never Retreat also had been nominated to last Saturday’s Modesty, a 1 3/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares at Arlington Park that offered Grade 3 status and a purse of $150,000.
But Team Block also had Askbut I Won’t Tell nominated to the Modesty and left her at home to finish a respectable fourth while sending Never Retreat back to Woodbine.
“We were unsure about this gal getting the mile and three-sixteenths,” Block said about Never Retreat. “We know she can get a mile and an eighth.”
The Sept. 18 Canadian, a 1 1/8-mile race that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $300,000, is the next turf stakes for the division here and definitely is on Team Block’s radar.
An interim appearance somewhere also is a strong possibility.
“We like to give her about five weeks between races,” Block said.
Bingo surprises in Ontario Damsel
Roxy Gap, a homebred who races for Eugene Melnyk and is trained by Mark Casse, was expected to dominate last Saturday’s $150,000 Ontario Damsel, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies. But one of her stablemates, Bingo, apparently didn’t get the memo as she led throughout most of the Ontario Damsel to win her maiden and become a stakes winner in one fell swoop.
Bingo, who is owned by Casse in partnership with his wife, Tina, was not among the original nominees to the Ontario Damsel but was supplemented at a cost of $3,000.
“She really disappointed me in her last start, and I decided to give her a little break,” said Casse, who had sent Bingo to the farm after watching her finish fourth in a six-furlong maiden turf race here June 12. “But when I went and saw her there, she’d gained some weight. I was pleased with how she looked.”
Back at the racetrack, Bingo breezed four furlongs in a bullet 47.20 seconds here July 4 with blinkers added to her equipment.
“She’d taken her little break well,” Casse said. “And, with blinkers on, she worked like a different horse. I looked at this race, and without Roxy Gap it looked kind of average.”
Bingo was ridden for the first time by Luis Contreras, who was recording his meet-leading 12th stakes victory and also has a healthy lead in races and money won.
The Ontario Damsel has been redesigned as a prep for the $250,000 Wonder Where, a 1 1/4-mile turf stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies here July 31. And while Casse has no immediate agenda for Bingo, his plans for Roxy Gap are definite.
“She’s going home for the rest of the year,” said Casse, who plans to ship Roxy Gap to Melnyk’s Winding Oak and farm manager Phil Hronec as soon as arrangements can be finalized. “She’ll probably come back for Gulfstream.
“Last year, after all of what happened in the fall, we took her to Florida simply to get her ready for the [Woodbine] Oaks. If things had gone better, maybe she could have won it.”
Roxy Gap, who had been unwell and was scratched on the morning of the Natalma Stakes last September, had seen her condition escalate and spent time at the University of Guelph’s veterinary clinic before being cleared to ship to Florida.
And although she won the seven-furlong Fury in her local seasonal bow April 30, Roxy Gap was a rather flat fourth in the Woodbine Oaks.
“I’d looked at this race [the Ontario Damsel] as a nice spot to get her back on track,” Casse said. “I just don’t think she’s herself right now.”
Barracks Road nearing return
Casse is hoping that the temporary void left by Roxy Gap’s departure will be filled by Barracks Road, last year’s Ontario Damsel winner who has been at Winding Oak since mid-winter.
“She’s almost ready to come back,” said Casse, who trains the homebred 4-year-old for Melnyk. “She hurt herself a little in her last start at Gulfstream.”
Barracks Road also won the Ontario Colleen, an open one-mile turf race, and finished a close second on the main track in both the open Ruling Angel and the restricted Jammed Lovely here last fall.
In her only subsequent outing, Barracks Road faltered to finish seventh when competing under second-level allowance terms in a one-mile turf race at Gulfstream on Jan. 12.
Casse, who was saddling his fifth stakes winner in the Ontario Damsel and shares the lead in that category with Reade Baker and Roger Attfield, will have several chances to add to that total here this coming weekend, with Clement Rock in Saturday’s Toronto Cup and Dene Court in Sunday’s Shady Well. Both are Melnyk runners who are leading contenders in their respective stakes.
Casse also plans to send out Thundering Waters for Centennial Farms (Niagara) in the Toronto Cup.