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TORONTO, ON – Trainer Kevin Attard’s Special Forces took home the Durham Cup (G3), and trainer Mark Casse saddled the 1-2 finishers in both the $250,000 Cup and Saucer Stakes (God of Love and Fast Feet) and the $150,000 Ontario Matron Stakes (Art of Almost and Skygaze) on Sunday’s card at Woodbine.
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Two years ago, Special Forces missed winning the by the slimmest of margins. On Sunday at Woodbine, he came out on top in the $155,100 event.
The 6-year-old son of Candy Ride didn’t have 1 start to his name in 2020. This year, he’s making up for lost time.
Sent off at 6/1 in a field that featured Mighty Heart (Canada’s reigning Horse of the Year), 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1) champ Sir Winston, and graded stakes winner Tap It to Win, Special Forces didn’t receive nearly as much fanfare as his rivals ahead of the 1 1/16-mile Tapeta race for 3-year-olds and upwards.
And although he wasn’t a presence early, the chestnut gelding was a force when it counted most.
It was Tap It to Win, fresh off a victory in the Seagram Cup (G3), who led the way into the first turn and through an opening 1/4 in :24.17. Halo Again, back in action after more than a year away from the races, was a close second, while Mighty Heart and Sir Winston sat third and fourth, respectively, Special Forces, with Justin Stein in the irons for the first time, was fifth and trailing.
Tap It to Win continued to set the pace through a 1/2 timed :47.96 as the cat-and-mouse game between the five rivals began to take shape.
Around the turn, it was anybody’s race with the tightly-bunched trio of Special Forces (on the outside), Sir Winston (middle), and Halo Again beginning to separate themselves from the other pair.
At the wire, Special Forces emerged a 1/2-length winner, with Sir Winston taking second, 2 lengths ahead of Halo Again.
A stewards’ inquiry into the top three finishers resulted in no changes.
“I worked him a couple times and he’s a lot of horse,” said Stein. “I was just the lucky jock to get on him. Kevin and his team have done an amazing job with him. He crushed today. He’s a champ.”
Attard was thrilled to see his veteran campaigner make his first trip to the winner’s circle since November 3, 2019, when Special Forces took the Autumn Stakes (G2) at Woodbine.
“We had to be very patient with him. Obviously, the COVID season kind of hampered his chances of getting back last year, but we elected to kind of back off and give him the rest of the year off.
“He was disrespected today, but this horse was probably one of the better older horses on the grounds here in 2019 and kind of got disrespected today… but showed his true colours.”
Bred by Machmer Hall, Carrie Brogden and Craig Brogden, Special Forces is now 6-6-2 from 20 starts for owners Soli Mehta and Partner.
He paid $15.60 for the win.
While 7-2 choice Fast Feet set the early tone in the 1 1/16-mile turf classic for Canadian-bred two-year-olds, it was 7-1 stablemate God of Love, a son of Cupid, who finished strongest of all to take the spoils.
Fast Feet, bred and owned by Gary Barber, arrived at the Cup and Saucer off an impressive first-time out win in September, and looked sharp again, taking his 10 rivals through an opening quarter of :25:53, as Mentoring kept close tabs on the leader, with Dancin in Da’nile following in third. God of Love, with Rafael Hernandez aboard, was well back in the pack, sitting in ninth.
Fast Feet continued to set the pace, still operating on a half-length lead over Mentoring through a half in :50.44, as God of Love was still well back in eighth spot.
Heading into the final turn, Fast Feet began to pick up the pace and attempted to draw away from his pursuers. God of Love, ninth at Robert Geller’s three-quarters call, still had plenty of work ahead of him.
After methodically picking off his rivals one-by-one, God of Love set his sights on his stablemate and began to carve into the former’s lead, going on to secure a 1 3/4-length score in a time of 1:47.86 over a yielding E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
Stronger Together finished one length behind Fast Feet for third and Dancin in Da’Nile took fourth.
“I tried to get the times, tried to get closer, because I know the turf is soft and we didn’t want to be stuck behind too many horses, but he refused to go early,” said Hernandez. “He said, ‘Nah.’ He was staying back, so I said we will try to make it in one run. I put him in gear, and he gave one run, and he came flying down the lane.”
The Ontario-bred returned $17.10 for the win.
Owned by Gary Barber and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, God of Love, bred by the late Bill Graham, was seventh as the favourite in his career bow, a 5 1/2-furlong Tapeta race, on September 12 at Woodbine.
Hernandez, who teamed with Casse to win 3 races at Woodbine on Saturday, including the Overskate Stakes, thinks there are even better days ahead for the chestnut colt.
“He can go on both (surfaces). He just needs to go longer. The longer he goes, the better he’s going to go.”
It was the sixth Cup and Saucer crown for Casse and his third straight.
Trainer Mark Casse put an exclamation point on a remarkable Woodbine weekend by sending out Art of Almost and Skygaze to a 1-2 finish in Sunday’s $150,300 Ontario Matron Stakes.
The Ontario Matron, a 1 1/16 mile Tapeta race for fillies and mares, attracted a field of six and followed Sunday’s featured Cup and Saucer Stakes, which also produced a Casse exactor. Woodbine’s run-a-way leading trainer saddled nine winners over the weekend, including three stakes.
“I wanted to get an outside run,” said jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson after guiding Art of Almost to her 1 ¼ length victory. “She can be a little quirky out of the one-hole and I was looking to position myself where I was in range, but could also work my way to the outside so that I could just get her going around the turn.”
Art of Almost raced in fifth and sixth place early while Crystal Glacier, a third Casse runner in the lineup, and Juxtapose disputed the front end through fractions of :25.25, :49.90, and 1:14.22.
Skygaze, the 3/5 favourite under Patrick Husbands, had started from the outside post and was wide around the first turn before settling into a stalking position within striking distance of the leaders.
Art of Almost, meanwhile, had been biding her time until Wilson swung her to the outside and popped the question turning for home. The mare answered with a turn of foot which carried her past her rivals to her going-away victory in final time of 1:43.99.
“I mean, as we straightened away, you can see I moved up to them at the top of the stretch and she wasn’t even quite ready in full flight yet,” said Wilson. “So, I was pretty confident when we measured up to Patrick there and, when I really reached for it and asked her, she gave me every she had.”
Skygaze, unable to match her stablemate’s closing burst, held second place by a half-length over a game Juxtapose with Crystal Glacier a neck back in fourth.
Saratoga Vision, just another head adrift, and Afleet Katherine completed the order of finish.
The longest price of the three Casse runners, Art of Almost returned $19.80 and topped a $50.20 exacta over Skygaze. Juxtapose, at 13-1, rounded out a trifecta worth $132.10 with the superfecta bottomed by 4-1 second choice Crystal Glacier coming back at $384.65 for $1.
A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred who races for Len Green’s D J Stable LLC, Art of Almost was winning her first stakes race in her 25th career outing. In her start prior to the Ontario Matron she had finished fourth, five lengths behind Skygaze and 4 ¾ lengths behind Crystal Glacier over the same course and distance.
Art of Almost was the second career Ontario Matron winner for Casse, who had captured the 2013 edition with Sisterly Love.
Wilson won the Ontario Matron with Miss Concerto in 2006. Art of Almost was her third stakes winner of the current meeting.
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