Competitive racing, three different Woodbine "meetings" and simply slow horses and bad luck have made it tough for so many top trainers at Woodbine this season to collect their usual number of wins. Many barns have struggled in 2006.
One of those is the high profile Mike Keogh stable, which went through two narrow losses on Sunday afternoon, one in the $300,000 Sky Classic Stakes before getting a win anyway - MURANI, in the Flaming Page Stakes.
The win was certainly welcome but tough for handicappers to explain as the fast improving filly defeated 3 to 5 favourite NOBLE STELLA, who was seemingly a total standout in the small field.
A multiple graded stakes winner this season, NOBLE STELLA has never had much luck at Woodbine, perhaps the long stretch run is not her favourite. Meanwhile, Murani was yet another horse ridden by Emile Ramsammy who was sent to the lead and this one held on in gritty fashion. Owned by Arosa Farms, Murani is by that super versatile sire Distorted Humor.
In the Sky Classic, Woodbine fans got a treat not only with the visit by Breeders' Cup Turf winner (2004) BETTER TALK NOW but three tough guys hit the wire in a line as the former rallied to engage Jambalaya and Last Answer. The win margin was a short head and Better Talk Now (by Talkin Man) proved he still has fire in his belly.
The connections of this 7-year-old gelding would be well advised to come back to Toronto for the $1.5 million Pattison Canadian International on Oct. 22, however, as beating Jambalaya and Last Answer by a neck might not get him much in the BC Turf this year.
Form is starting to come around on horses on the Polytrack now and after sizzling times on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and Saturday, the track seemed to be tinkered with (again) and the clockings were closer to normal on Sunday. Still, it appears that a horse must be within 5 lengths to have a chance to win on the surface at this point.
Jockeys Richard Dos Ramos and Eurico Rosa da Silva were the stars last week while top trainers Reade Baker, Mark Casse, Scott Fairlie, Bob Tiller and Sid Attard all picked up wins here and there.
Baker, a guest at a handicapping seminar at Greenwood Teletheatre on Saturday (and who picked the most winners on the panel!) offered up several Horses to Watch this week including Perigee Girl (Wednesday night) and Elkhart.
On the west coast HALO STEVEN won a courageous pace battle with Woodbine-based OKAY NOTHANKSFORASKN to win the B.C. Derby yesterday at Hastings Park in Vancouver. The Florida-bred gelding battled on the pace with the latter and jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson and then held off another Woodbine guy, HEAD CHOPPER and jockey Justin Stein, to win by a nose. A neck separated Head Chopper and 'Ok' and the latter was a neck in front of Raise the Bluff. Stein lost his whip in mid-stretch.
The Derby consolation when to favoured Luhuk's Dancer, who was ridden by Stein.
In Winnipeg,, 9-year-old ELITE MERCEDES won the Gold Breeders' Cup Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.