Five turf stakes complement Sunday’s $1 million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine and the $250,000 Highlander (G2) is the most lucrative of the group. The 6-furlong event serves as a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) and is led by 2-1 morning line favorite Green Mask.
A neck second in last year’s Highlander, Green Mask returns to Canada in top form for Brad Cox, recording an easy win the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) on Kentucky Oaks Day before finishing a close runner-up in the Jaipur (G3) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The latter event established a new world record for six furlongs (1:05.67) and Green Mask’s recent BRIS Speed Ratings (107 and 104) tower over his seven rivals Sunday. Javier Castellano retains the mount on the 6-year-old gelding.
Commute and Calgary Cat, the 2-3 finishers from the June 3 Connaught Cup (G2) at Woodbine, are both back for the Highlander. The Mark Casse-trained Commute has finished either first or second in his last three starts and keeps Patrick Husbands. Calgary Cat captured the Nearctic (G2) over the course last fall before posting a rallying fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and will make his third start off the layoff for trainer Kevin Attard and jockey Luis Contreras.
Noholdingback Bear, Canada’s 2016 champion male sprinter, has raced primarily on synthetic and dirt tracks but did finish second when trying turf last year. The 4-year-old has been switched back to Michael De Paulo and Luis Contreras rides. Commend, a last-out allowance winner at Belmont Park, could also attract support for Bill Mott and Jose Ortiz.
The one-mile King Edward (G2) features a contentious nine-horse field including Tower of Texas, who will stretch out an extra furlong following his victory in the Connaught Cup. The 6-year-old gelding finished third in the 2016 King Edward and Da Silva has the call for Roger Attfield.
U.S. stakes winner Monster Bea is eligible to make his presence felt for Casse and adds Husbands for his first attempt on Woodbine’s turf. Other contenders include recent Eclipse (G2) scorer Dragon Bay and third-placer Unbridled Juan.
Fillies and mares are in the spotlight in the $175,000 Dance Smartly (G2) at 1 ¼ miles, and we can expect to see Rainha Da Bateria and Suffused compete for favoritism among the eight runners.
Rainha Da Bateria captured the Canadian (G2) over the course last fall and will seek to move forward in her second start of the season for Chad Brown. The 5-year-old exits a close fourth in the May 13 Beaugay (G3) at Belmont and was flattered when the winner came back to capture the New York (G2). Suffused recorded an excellent nose second in the E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine last fall and posted a couple of Grade 3 wins at Gulfstream earlier this season, but she’ll be looking to rebound from a fifth as the favorite in the New York.
Seven turf marathoners will square off in the $125,000 Singspiel (G3) at 1 ½ miles. Reporting Star, a Grade 2 winner over the course, is the early 2-1 favorite following a runner-up in the Louisville H. (G3) at Churchill Downs. Grade 3 victor Bullards Alley has been installed as the 3-1 second choice.
The $100,000 Charlie Barley for 3-year-olds completes the stakes action and the Todd Pletcher-conditioned Made You Look will try to turn things around in the one-mile affair. A Grade 2 winner at age 2, the dark bay colt opened 2017 with a victor in the Dania Beach (G3) but has been no factor in his last two outings. He will meet eight foes.