This past February, while on a short trip to Florida, my friends and I scouted out locals at Classic Mile training centre in Ocala and watched Shillelagh Slew gallop. Now the 3yo is likely going to be named Canada's champion 3yo colt at next Sat.'s Sovereign Awards.
Following 13 packed fields that make up the last day of racing at Woodbine for 2006, the Polytrack dust will settle on a very unique, 50th year of the track.
There were celebrations for its birthday, some super giveaways and momentos, lots of great racing but some trying times with three very different parts to the 164-day meet.
The old main track was in action until July when thoroughbreds took their surface with them and raced on the 7 furlong harness, inner track. THAT was interesting and not too many horses liked it.
Finally, the Polytrack dream came true when, on a Wednesday night in August, the 2nd track in North America to race on the synthetic surface, cut a red-ribbon and unshered the horses onto the new track.
That Polytrack sure isn't the same Poly we see right now. Kickback has been an ongoing problem for almost the last 2 months. Clumps developed when the temperature dropped and jockeys and horses are getting hit in the face - and it's hurting.
In the spring, Woodbine apparently is going to take off a bunch of Polytrack and put new stuff on, without the fibre.
It's a reasonably good surface and a good idea for the horses, but betting Polytrack has been brutual and watching it on TV has been even worse - the horses are almost completely hidden in a cloud of Poly.
Anyway, the new surface has lead to big fields, more shippers from south of the border and the amount wagered on a card of racing has been super in the last few months and alll that is good news.
Not too many good races today but they are challenging betting puzzles.
Yesterday, a lot of favourites won as trainers like Sid Attard and Scott Fairlie are dropping their horses right down in class and winning. Apprentice Michelle Rainford, who somehow did not get nominated for a Sovereign Award this year, won 4 dashes yesterday and you can see her riding style is brimming with confidence.
What to look for today?
Other than a huge number in the "handle" department (how much will be bet on the 13 races), Robert Tiller could have a good day - he is well represented in races 1 3 and 5.
Promising 2-year-old EASTERMAN makes his 2nd career start after a handsome debut win (race 4) and could get himself into a very crowded group of contenders for next year's Queen's Plate.
Will tough little CRAFTY BROAD finally win today? The claiming filly has had 12 starts in 2006 with three 2nds and four 3rds. Today she shortens up and gets blinkers.
Race 6 is the 1 7/8 mile starter allowance ($25,000) featuring the red-hot TALL COOL ONE, who now races for trainer Alec Fehr and another grey gelding, LETTHEREBEJUSTICE, this corner's longshot pick to win the race for capable trainer Julia Carey.
RACE 9 is the VALEDICTORY, the signature race for the last day of racing - 1 3/4 miles for $125,000.
Likely Sovereign award winning older horse TRUE METROPOLITAN is 8 to 5 on the 'line' (set by me!) and looks very strong. Watch out for BUREAUCRATIC to fill exactors and tri's.
The LATE PICK 3, races 11, 12 and 13 are tricky but handicapper Jim Bannon makes a good point with ELECTRIC SKY in the 11th (maybe too much kickback for her liking in her last start).
Race 12, for $10,000 claimers is wide open with ARCHER FLEET, SHIPMAN and Scott Fairlie's TRIFECTA rating long looks.
End the day with maidens for $10K and consider Reade Baker's STRATOFAN (Baker won with a litany of first-timers in 2006, most of them with slow workout times), PURDY BOY (Fairlie/Rainford) and longshot prospect X WHITE Z (3rd start off the layoff).
A nice finishing touch to this note is news from the other side of the world that COLLIER HILL, the old, arthrtic gelding who won Woodbine's Canadian International in October, won the Hong Kong Vase over the mare Kastoria this morning (last night, whatever) - proving again that the racing at Woodbine is top class.