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First Empire Rules The Roost In Soaring Free
Credit: Michael Burns Photo

First Empire Rules The Roost In Soaring Free

TORONTO, ONFirst Empire, prominent throughout, took charge around the final turn and held off Degree of Risk to score by 1 3/4lengths in Saturday’s $140,250 Soaring Free Stakes at Woodbine. 

The Soaring Free, a 6 1/2-furlong turf race for 2-year-olds, attracted a field of six and kicked off the first of back-to-back four-stakes programs at the Toronto oval on Queen’s Plate weekend.  

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First Empire, conditioned by Mark Casse, had finished a faltering fifth when debuting here on the Tapeta, but then was a game front-running winner over six furlongs of turf with returning rider Patrick Husbands in the irons. 

“When I breezed him in the morning, he’s okay, but on the grass, as he’s shown in his last two races, he’s a different horse,” said Husbands. “I had so much horse swinging for home. I knew it would take a real nice horse to beat him.” 

In the Soaring Free, First Empire pressed Indiana invader Heaven Street while racing just outside through an opening quarter in :22.49 and led that one by a length as he got the half in :44.37. 

Degree of Risk, invading from Illinois for trainer Eoin Harty, was making his turf debut and impressed, finishing second, despite racing greenly through the lane. 

Heaven Street wound up third, 7 ¼-lengths behind the runner-up. 

Twenty Four Mamba, who like First Empire is a son of the Casse-trained Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old Classic Empire, was another 3 ½-lengths back in fourth. 

Concealed Carry never menaced in finishing fifth and Silent Farewell, a troubled second behind First Empire when debuting here August 1, failed to enter contention as the 9-5 favourite and checked in last. 

The final time was 1:15.44. 

Sent off as the 5-2 second choice, First Empire returned $7.80 and keyed a $53.70 exacta over 9-1 Degree of Risk. Heaven Street, at 5-1, completed a $97.05 ($1) trifecta and the superfecta with Twenty Four Mamba came back at $312.90 for $1. 

First Empire, owned by Dick Bonnycastle’s Harlequin Ranches, is out of the Macho Uno mare Silsita and is the first stakes winner for both his dam and his freshman sire. Bred by Saintsbury Farm, First Empire was a $60,000 yearling at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s October sale. 

Casse won last year’s Soaring Free with Gretzky the Great, who used the race as a stepping-stone to success here in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes and went on to be honoured as Canada’s Outstanding Male Two-Year-Old. 

This year’s $400,000 Summer Stakes (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, will be run at Woodbine on September 19. 

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