By Gene Kershner
We’ve gone from summer racing to Breeders’ Cup prep season in a matter of two weeks. The big racing this weekend takes place mostly on our side of the continent, with major races at Belmont Park and to the north at Woodbine in Toronto. Two of the major races are Saturday’s Garden City at Belmont and the Woodbine Mile in nearby Toronto.
The Grade 1 $250,000 Garden City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8-mile on the turf at Belmont has enough stories to intrigue the faintest of racing fans. The prohibitive favorite, Winter Memories (8-5 morning line favorite), a four-time graded stakes winner, will be trying to make amends for a fourth place finish in the Lake Placid at Saratoga where she was the 1-5 favorite, won by Hungry Island.
Winter Memories’ rider in that race, Jose Lezcano, was severely criticized after being pinned inside by Ramon Dominguez, and with nowhere to make her late run, never was able to get into contention. Trainer Jimmy Toner decided to change jockeys for the Garden City and enlisted top turf jockey Javier Castellano to take the mount.
Toner thinks Winter Memories will rebound from her troubled trip in the Lake Placid. “I would like for her to make amends for her last race. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Hungry Island, who ran a great race. I just hope she can run her race, is all,” said Toner.
To make things more interesting, Lezcano was awarded the mount on Lake Placid runner-up Kathmanblu (8-1), a terrific filly who will obviously have a motivated rider aboard. The 3-year-old Bluegrass Cat filly will be making her third Grade 1 appearance and should be a factor based on class alone.
To add even more spice to the drama, celebrity chef Bobby Flay has entered the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion, More Than Real (8-1), who defeated Winter Memories in the Cup last November at Churchill Downs. After a disappointing trip over the pond to Royal Ascot, where she finished 11th in the Group 1 Coronation, she returned to finish third in the Lake Placid and could be ready to roll with her second race after the journey to the UK.
The Lake Placid champion Hungry Island (3-1) has only one career loss (coming at Belmont) and carries a four-race winning streak into the Garden City and her assistant trainer thinks a bigger effort is in the wings. “I think that last race was obviously her best race. All summer long we’ve seen improvement and I think there’s more room for improvement too,” said Buzz Tenney, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey.
Heading up the QEW, Woodbine’s Sunday card features some solid stakes racing with the Woodbine Mile and the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes on tap. By the time the Bills will have taken care of the Raiders on Sunday afternoon, the major stakes races to the north will be ready to roll.
The $1 million Woodbine Mile, Sunday’s feature race at the Toronto race course, has 12 entries attempting to claim the $600,000 first place prize, including veteran stakes winner Court Vision and Charles LoPresti’s Turallure. The race has attracted top riders Julien Leparoux (Turallure), Garret Gomez (Right One), Pat Valenzuela (Courageous Cat) and Saratoga meet winning jock Johnny Velazquez (Forte Dei Marmi). The best jocks show up for the big dough and the Woodbine Mile is no exception.
Prior to the Woodbine Mile, the Northern Dancer Turf will feature nine horses, including stakes champions Ali Khali, Bourbon Bay and Seaside Retreat. Smokin’ Joe Talamo flies in from California to ride Bourbon Bay for trainer Neil Drysdale.
• We made a trek westward last Thursday to Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., and for being only 90 minutes down the Thruway it’s a quality race track with all the amenities. I sat in the dining area to watch several of the races and enjoyed the view, and an awesome filly cheesesteak sandwich (nice play on words). My only complaint was the length of time it took to post results after a race, sometimes up to 10 minutes. Of course, when you have a winning ticket in your hand, you have much more patience.
• Buffalo-based Bella Cavello Stables ran a Giacomo (2005 Kentucky Derby champion) filly at Presque Isle that evening named Giaelle, who finished a disappointing fourth and will look to stretch out in her next start after five straight sprint races. The local owners rebounded this past Wednesday evening at the Erie oval when Little B Rosson scored at odds of 11-1 and paid $23.20 for the win in a six furlong allowance.
• Fort Erie has moved post times back to 1:15 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays for the remainder of the season.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.