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TORONTO, ON – The $600,000 E. P. Taylor Stakes (G1) and the $250,000 Nearctic Stakes (G2) headline Sunday’s action at Woodbine.
The E. P. Taylor is a 1 1/4-mile turf test for fillies and mares 3 and up, and the Nearctic is a 6-furlong grass engagement for 3-year-olds and up.
Conditioner Christophe Clement will be represented by a pair of top contenders in the form of La Dragontea and Mutamakina.
A four-year-old daughter of Lope de Vega-La Concorde, La Dragontea will make her second straight start at Woodbine. Bred by Bartisan Racing Ltd., the dark bay took the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes on September 18, fending off a stiff challenge at the stretch call to win the 1 1/8-mile turf race by a length over Court Return.
“I think she ran very well,” said Clement. “[Joel] Rosario was very confident, and she was very impressive. She’s been improving all year long.”
It was the fourth win from 12 starts for the Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Rebecca Hillen-owned mare.
Since arriving in North America, La Dragontea has recorded a mark of 3-0-0 from five starts.
“She had two wins in New York. She ran in the stakes race [fourth in the Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial, on July 10] at Delaware and she did not get the best race scenario. She’s been a nice filly and she’s improving. It’s exciting to have her. Her works have been good, and I just hope that the turf is not too soft. I don’t mind it soft, just not too soft because it is always a bit extreme.”
Mutamakina, a five-year-old daughter of Nathaniel-Joshua’s Princess, also comes into the E.P. Taylor off a winning effort at Woodbine.
The bay mare held on for a half-length score in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly Stakes on August 22, marking her fourth career win and second graded tally (she won the Grade 3 Long Island Stakes at Aqueduct last November).
“She’s a good filly too,” offered Clement. “She’s trained very well. Her last two works in New York have been good. Two weeks ago, she worked with Gufo, my good colt, and she worked as well as he did. And then I sent her out on her own with [jockey] Dylan Davis. She worked very well again. Both fillies are very sound, they look great. For me, as a trainer, it is very exciting.”
Bred in Britain by Widgham Stud, Mutamakina is owned by Al Shiraa’aa Farms.
Clement, who has enjoyed great success at Woodbine over the years, including a Pattison Canadian International triumph with Relaxed Gesture in 2005, is looking to add an E.P. Taylor title to his résumé.
“I’ve been lucky at Woodbine, but never in the E.P. Taylor. Hopefully, we can change that luck on Sunday.”
Standing in the way is an accomplished group of turfers, including Court Return, a five-year-old daughter of Court Vision, who brings a mark of 2-6-1 from 19 races into Sunday’s race. Bred and owned by Ivan Dalos, the Ontario-bred finished second to La Dragontea in the Canadian. The bay is trained by Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Josie Carroll.
Etoile, from the stable of Chad Brown, will look to win consecutive runnings of the E.P. Taylor. Last year, the five-year-old French-bred daughter of Siyouni finished second in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly before her E.P. Taylor score. Owned by Peter Brant, Mrs. M.V. Magnier, and Mrs. Paul Shanahan, the bay mare, 4-3-0 from 12 career starts, once again finished second in the Dance Smartly.
Brown also sends out Kalifornia Queen (GER), a four-year-old daughter of Lope de Vega (IRE) and Great Island, a five-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy. Kalifornia Queen (3-2-2 from 12 starts) was second in the Grade 3 Matchmaker this July, a race won by Great Island (4-2-2 from eight starts).
Trainer Roger Varian sends out Waliyak (FR), a four-year-old daughter of Le Havre, who has a record of 4-5-3 from 14 starts. In her latest effort, the dark bay, owned by Fawzi Abdulla Nass, won the Group 3 Prix de Bertrand Tarragon on September 17.
Family Way (4-1-2 from 11 starts), a four-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo, Merveilleux (4-3-2 from 15 starts), a four-year-old daughter of Paynter, and Keyflower (FR, 2-2-2 from eight starts), a three-year-old daughter of Kheleyf, complete the field.
Flying Trapeze won the inaugural running of the E.P. Taylor Stakes (known as the Nettie Handicap until 1981) in 1956. Trainers Lou Cavalaris Jr., Frank Merrill Jr., and Maurice Zilber have won three editions of the race. Kitty Girl (1957, 1958) is the only two-time winner.
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse said his best chance to win the Nearctic will come if there’s a hot pace that falls apart late to benefit his trio of entries.
“All three of my horses are come-from-behind horses,” Casse said of Olympic Runner (post 3, Rafael Hernandez, 6-1), Turned Aside (post 6, Kazushi Kimura, 20-1) and Lucky Curlin (post 7, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 10-1).
Casse said “the old pro” Olympic Runner and “up-and-coming horse” Lucky Curlin, “need some pace and I think there’s going to be some pace. There’s some quick horses in there. If we get some pace and it falls apart, both of those horses will come running.”
Brandon Greer trainee Town Cruise (post 9, Daisuke Fukumoto, 2-1) is the morning line favorite, followed by Admiralty Pier (post 1, Antonio Gallardo, 7-2), White Flag (post 4, Emma-Jayne Wilson, 5-1) and then Olympic Runner.
Casse said four-year-old Lucky Curlin has run well in his two starts this year – a victory on Aug. 22 at Woodbine in an Allowance Optional Claiming race and a second to Pink Lloyd on September 25 in the Grade 3 $150,000 Bold Venture Stakes, also at Woodbine. Lucky Curlin (Curlin-My Lady Luck by Hard Spun) has a record of 3-3-3 in 14 starts.
“Irad Ortiz is going to ride him for us,” Casse said. “He’s coming in to ride in the E.P. Taylor, so he’s going to ride him for us. (Lucky Curlin) belongs to Gary Barber… He won on the turf and then came back and was second in the stakes to Pink Lloyd. But he’s actually pretty good on the grass. There’s supposed to be some rain and I’m hoping there’s a little cut in the ground and it maybe brings some of his speed back. He’ll be running late.”
Casse said Olympic Runner “had kind of tough trip last time” in the Grade 1 $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile on September 18, finishing eighth in a race won by Town Cruise. Yet, it’s been a productive year for Olympic Runner, a five-year-old son of Gio Ponti-Nadadora by Carson City owned by Barber. Olympic Runner is 2-2-0 in eight starts in 2021. Olympic Runner won the Grade 2 $175,000 King Edward Stakes on August 15 at Woodbine, was second in the Grade 2 $175,000 Connaught Cup Stakes on July 18 at Woodbine and was second in the Grade 3 $125,000 Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 27. Last year, he was fourth in the Nearctic won by Silent Poet.
As for Casse’s 20-1 longshot, Turned Aside, the trainer said the five-year-old son of American Pharoah-Sustained by War Front has been a disappointment.
“He was a really talented horse last year. We’ve got him this year and he’s been very disappointing. He’s training well. It’s a tough spot, but I’m going to give it a try,” Casse said.
This year, Turned Aside’s best finish is a fourth in the Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa Bay in February. Turned Aside was ninth in the Grade 2 $200,000 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland on April 3 and eighth on August 22 in the Grade 1 $350,000 Highlander Stakes at Woodbine, a race won by Silent Poet.
In his career, Turned Aside has a 4-2-1 record in 12 starts for D.J. Stable LLC and West Point Thoroughbreds. Turned Aside won the Grade 3 $100,000 Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga in 2020.
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