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TORONTO, ON – The $125,000 Queenston Stakes, a key race on the road to this year’s Queen’s Plate, and the $175,000 Eclipse Stakes (G2) share the spotlight this Saturday at Woodbine.
Nine horses will contest the 7-furlong Queenston, a main track stakes for 3-year-olds foaled in Canada. The 65th edition of the race serves as an important prep for the Queen’s Plate, slated for September 12 at Woodbine.
Dotted Line, trained by Sid Attard for Howard Walton’s Norseman Racing Stable, finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in his first 2 starts before rhyming off 3 straight wins in his rookie campaign.
The now 3-year-old gelded son of Signature Red closed the book on his first season at the races with back-to-back stakes wins, taking the Frost King by a neck at 49/1 in November and the Kingarvie as the 3/5 choice in December.
“He’s a very nice horse,” said Attard of the horse listed as the 18/1 ninth choice in the 2020 Queen’s Plate Winterbook. “He’s a big, strong horse, and we liked him right from the start.”
Justin Stein once again gets the call.
“He has the right attitude, the drive to win and compete,” said Stein, who was aboard for the Frost King and Kingarvie wins. “When I ride him, he feels like he knows he is the best and he’s ready to prove it.”
Other notable Queenston starters include Halo Again, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Willis Horton Racing LLC.
The son of Speightstown, trained by Steve Asmussen and bred by David Anderson, won his first 2 starts, including the 2019 running of the Coronation Futurity.
Listed as the fourth choice (8/1) in the Queen’s Plate Winterbook, Halo Again finished eighth in the Lecomte (G3) in January and fourth in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) in March.
The Eclipse, run at 1 1/16 miles on the Toronto oval Tapeta, has attracted seven hopefuls for the 65th running of the stakes for 4-year-olds and up.
Three-time stakes winner Cooler Mike, a 5-year-old son of Giant Gizmo, goes after his first graded stakes title.
Bred and owned by father and son duo Mike and Nick Nosowenko, the gelding is one of the most consistent competitors on the Woodbine grounds, having assembled a 6-4-5 record from 21 career starts.
Of those wins, 3 – all stakes – came last year, a campaign that saw the Ontario-bred win the Halton, Bunty Lawless, and Sir Barton Stakes.
Cooler Mike narrowly missed making it 4 added-money triumphs, finishing a neck behind Kingsport in the Steady Growth Stakes.
“When you win 3 stakes with an Ontario horse, I think it’s a pretty good highlight,” said Nick Nosowenko, who also trains. “Then he lost that close one in the Steady Growth, which was another big effort. He’s come around to be a very good horse. He’s very sound now, and that’s the best thing going into a race like this.”
He arrives at the Eclipse off a fifth-place finish in his 2020 debut, a 7-1/2-furlong inner turf race at the Toronto oval on June 11.
“He’s doing great,” said Nick Nosowenko. “That last race, there was nowhere else to go. I was kind of leery about going on the Inner Turf with the tight turns, but he ran pretty well. He looked like he was going to do something turning for home, but they just sprinted off on him. He galloped out strong and in front. He wasn’t his happy self for the last little while, but after his work (5 furlongs in :59 flat, breezing, on the Woodbine main track, on June 27), he started to have that bounce in his step again. I think he’ll run a big one on Saturday.”
The chestnut, who won his career bow on August 7, 2017, went on to contest two of the three Canadian Triple Crown Series races in his sophomore season. He was third in both the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine and the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie.
“I think he’s got a cool name, and he’s built up a good following. I think people enjoy seeing him run like he does. He’s won on different courses, and he’s won at a mile and 1/2, and come back to win at a mile and 1/16. That’s quite an adjustment for any horse, and he’s done that. He’s thriving right now. He’s just a cool horse. He’s the laid-back guy in the barn. Put him on the track and then he’s a beast.”
Two-time Queen’s Plate-winning trainer Josie Carroll sends out Avie’s Flatter and Mr Ritz in the Eclipse.
A 4-year-old son of Flatter, Avie’s Flatter has compiled a 4-2-2 mark from 11 starts for owner-breeder Ivan Dalos.
The Ontario-bred chestnut launched his 2019 campaign with a smart score in the Transylvania Stakes (G3) last April at Keeneland.
He contested all of last year’s Canadian Triple Crown races, finishing second in both the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales and third in the Breeders’ Stakes.
In his most recent effort, Avie’s Flatter was third, a 1/2-length out of top spot, in a 7-1/2-furlong inner turf race at Woodbine on June 11.
“He had a good winter, but was set to run in the spring,” said Carroll, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2019. “We didn’t get that opportunity and it was a little difficult to keep him focused and waiting. We got a nice race into him now, and I think that’s going to propel him forward. He always shows up. We’re taking a step forward, running with older horses this year – it’s a different game.”
Earle Mack’s 5-year-old Mr Ritz went 2-2-0 from 5 engagements last year, a season highlighted by a 1 1/4-length victory in the Seagram Cup Stakes (G3) in August, followed by another 1 1/4-mile triumph one month later in the Presque Isle Mile.
The British-bred son of Oasis Dream just missed winning last year’s edition of the Eclipse, finishing a nose back of Souper Tapit.
“I think he had a tremendous season last year,” praised Carroll. “We gave him the whole winter off, and freshened him up. We really had targeted a mid-summer start anyway, so everything’s fallen into place properly for him. He was just impressive all of last year. Every time you send him out to do something, he just goes out and gets the job done. He matured a lot last year. It took him a while to settle into things, and he’s just really grown up. He’s turned into a pretty special horse.”
Carroll is confident in both her charges.
“I think they’re both live horses. They’re two consistent, live horses, that show up every time you lead them over.”
Last year, Mark Casse trainee Federal Law paid $9.70 to win the Queenston as the 7/2 third choice on the toteboard.
Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Souper Tapit, also campaigned by Casse, took last year’s Eclipse, returning $5.90 for the victory.
On Saturday, Casse sends out Deviant in the Queenston as well as Eclipse contenders Uncle Bull and Skywire.
The Queenston is carded as race seven on Saturday’s 10-race program. The Eclipse goes as race eight. First post is 1 p.m.
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