Canada

Huge day for jockey Rafael Hernandez at Woodbine, winning five races on the day including the two stakes events

Woodbine jockey Rafael Hernandez rides thoroughbred horses, but on Saturday the Puerto Rico-born rider took the bull by the horns.

Hernandez had an absolute huge day at the Etobicoke track, winning both stakes races on the day — the $125,000 Queenston and the $175,000 Eclipse — and five races in total. Hernandez now has 26 victories this season to lead the Woodbine jockey standings, eight more than second-place Emma-Jayne Wilson.

In the Eclipse — a 1 1/16 miles Grade II for older horses — Hernandez-ridden Skywire caught Avie’s Flatter in the stretch from the outside in a dramatic finish. Josie Carroll’s horses — Avie’s Flatter and Mr Ritz finished — finished second and third. The Earle Mack-owned Mr Ritz finished second in last year’s Eclipse Stakes by a nose to Souper Tapit.

The Eclipse victory was sweet consolation for the Mark Casse-trained Skywire, who had struggled to retain his form after a horrible start in last year’s Queen’s Plate when he was bumped and cut off just outside of the starting gate. Skywire, owned by Gary Barber and Lou Tucci, was the 2-1 favourite heading into the 2019 Queen’s Plate.

“You know what? The numbers don’t count here. It’s just about race horses,” said Hernandez, when asked about the fact that Skywire was 17-1 heading into the race. “You can’t worry about (the odds) when you (race) for Casse. He put (Skywire) in there because he knows he belongs.”

Racing near the back the entire way while tracking Avie’s Flatter along the rail, Skywire followed that foe wide turning for home in the 1-1/16-mile affair for older horses then hauled down the late leader in the stretch for the victory in 1:44.12.

Bred in Ontario by William Graham, the four-year-old Afleet Alex-Meandering Stream gelding helped Casse to successive scores in the Eclipse. Casse won this race in 2019 with Souper Tapit. He also trained the 2006 winner Arch Hall.

In the first stakes race of the day at Woodbine, the Kentucky shipper Halo Again, ridden by Hernandez, trained by Steve Asmussen for owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing, tracked down Golden Wave in the stretch to win the Queenston Stakes for three-year-olds foaled in Canada. Halo Again (the 6-5 favourite) won the Coronation Futurity last Nov. 23 at Woodbine and the bay colt now has three wins in five starts lifetime.

Bred by Anderson Farms Ont. Inc., the son of Speightstown and Halo’s Verse was a $600,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland sale. He is a half-brother to 2017 Wonder Where Stakes champion Inflexibility (by Scat Daddy), who was a top three finisher in both the Woodbine Oaks and Queen’s Plate.

TOUGH START FOR FILLY
There was a scary incident in Race 1 of Saturday’s card when the two-year-old dark bay filly Nero Davola hit the rail while charging down the stretch and wiped out, sending jockey Sahin Civaci flying. Nero Davola, trained by Martin Drexler for owner Franco Meli, finished sans jockey and seemed alright afterwards, as did Civaci, who was seen bent over holding his back afterwards. Nero Davola, in her first ever race, seemed to have the 4 1/2 furlongs, $64,300 maiden optional claimer won before the incident. As it was, Silent Mamba, with Justin Stein on board, crossed the wire first for trainer Harold Ladouceur, his first victory of the season at Woodbine.

AROUND THE TRACK
The three-year-old filly Ima Beast held off American Tap to win Race 3 — a $101,200 allowance optional claimer — with Luis Contreras on board, the second win of the day for Ladouceur. Ima Beast, owned by Jocelyn McKathan, went off at 38-1 and paid $78.80 … Woodbine newcomer Darryll Holland won for the first time since opening day, guiding five-year-old dark bay Eskiminzin (3-1) to victory in Race 6 (a 7 1/2 furlongs allowance race for $108,700 on the inner turf) with a nice ride for trainer Carlos Grant for owner Jecara Farms, Holland picked up the mount on Eskiminzin from the injured Jeffrey Alderson … Besides winning the Eclipse with Skywire, Casse also won Race 9 — a $101,200 purse allowance — with Irish-bred Chuck Willis, the second straight win this year at Woodbine for Chuck Willis with Kazushi Kimura in the saddle.

ENTRY FOR OILERS STAR
Edmonton Oilers star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will block out thoughts of the NHL’s return this summer for a short while as he watches his undefeated filly Infinite Patience race in the $125,000 Fury Stakes at Woodbine on Sunday afternoon. Nugent-Hopkins is co-owner of Infinite Patience, bred and co-owned by William DeCoursey. The decorated bay daughter of Sungold is a perfect five-for-five — her last four victories all coming in stakes events at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver. The Fury represents her three-year-old debut.
Six fillies will compete for the purse in The Fury. One of the favourites is Gun Society, a daughter of Society’s Chairman. The seven-furlong Fury (for Canadian-foaled three-year-old fillies) is a key race on the road to the Woodbine Oaks presented by Budweiser (Aug. 15), and possible date in the Queen’s Plate (Sept. 12). Bred, owned and trained by dual Hall of Fame inductee Roger Attfield, Gun Society is listed at 30-1 in the Queen’s Plate Winterbook.
In the final start of her two-year-old campaign, Gun Society stepped up to the stakes ranks, and delivered a 7-1 upset in the main track South Ocean on Nov. 16.
Other contenders include Avie’s Samurai, a dark bay daughter of First Samurai. Bred and owned by Ivan Dalos, the Josie Carroll trainee fashions a mark of 2-1-2 from seven starts. Carroll also sends out Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes champ Curlin’s Voyage (6-1, third choice in the Queen’s Plate Winterbook). She was named Canada’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly for her $265,000 juvenile campaign.

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