March 3, 2024

Wakanaka, Lady Speightspeare square off in Dance Smartly on Woodbine Oaks Day

Lady Speightspeare
Lady Speightspeare takes the 2020 Natalma Stakes (Michael Burns Photo)

Woodbine hosts four stakes on Sunday. While the C$500,000 Woodbine Oaks opens the classic series for three-year-old fillies, Queen’s Plate hopefuls audition in the C$150,000 Plate Trial. Bookending those Canadian-restricted events are a pair of graded stakes for distaffers, the C$200,000 Dance Smartly (G2) for the turf set and C$150,000 Hendrie (G3) for sprinters.

Dance Smartly (G2) – Race 10 (5:58 p.m. ET)

Wakanaka jaunts north of the border to find a Chad Brown-free zone. The Bill Mott filly has turned in a series of fine placings to Brown trainees in major stakes this season. Runner-up to future Diana (G1) heroine In Italian in the Honey Fox (G3) at Gulfstream, Wakanaka was third to Speak of the Devil in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) and second to Regal Glory in the Just a Game (G1) last out. That makes her the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Dance Smartly.

Leading the home team is Lady Speightspeare, a perfect 4-for-4 on the Woodbine turf with scores in the 2020 Natalma (G1) and the July 2 Nassau (G2) in a dead-heat. Trained by Roger Attfield, the Charles Fipke homebred didn’t do herself justice during her winter and spring stateside campaign. But she still managed placings to Brown stars Regal Glory (in the Jenny Wiley [G1]) and Bleecker Street (in the Endeavour [G3]). The venue change to Woodbine could help the former Canadian champion turn the tables on Wakanaka, who left Lady Speightspeare well back in fourth at Churchill Downs.

Mark Casse has entered three. Group 2 veteran Fev Rover, the third-placer in last year’s 1000 Guineas (G1), makes her North American premiere after selling for about $975,000 at Tattersalls in December. Fellow European recruit Keyflower, a close sixth in the 2021 E.P. Taylor (G1), arrives following a stint in Southern California. Note that she shares the same ownership as Wakanaka, Team Valor International and Gary Barber, and Rafael Hernandez was named on both. Rounding out the Casse trio is Inthewinnerscircle, unraced since her sixth in the Dec. 26 Tropical Park Oaks.

Last year’s Canadian champion three-year-old filly, Munnyfor Ro, reverts to turf after a comeback third in the Belle Mahone S. on Tapeta. Blueblood Seasons seeks a stakes breakthrough in the wake of a smart allowance score for Josie Carroll.

Woodbine Oaks – Race 9 (5:27 p.m. ET)

Although Brown isn’t represented in the Dance Smartly, he did send Shadwell Stable’s Sahlabiya for an open-looking Woodbine Oaks. The twice-raced maiden has placed in both starts on the turf at Belmont Park, and now switches to the all-weather, a 29% move for Brown. Respect for her connections, and pedigree as a $1.6 million yearling, prompted her odds of 3-1 on the morning line. Kazushi Kimura takes the mount aboard the Medaglia d’Oro half-sister to Group 3 hero Sergei Prokofiev.

Moira, the slight 2-1 favorite, brings a 2-for-3 career mark for Kevin Attard. An impressive debut winner of last fall’s Princess Elizabeth S., she sustained her lone loss by a half-length to divisional champion Mrs. Barbara in the Mazarine (G3). Moira returned victorious in the June 11 Fury S., edging Pioneer’s Edge by a head. Moira’s stablemate Souper Flashy, who chased her home in the Princess Elizabeth, exits a fourth in the Fury.

Other contenders include recent maiden-breakers Swoop to Finish, a Sam-Son homebred by American Pharoah; Sister Seagull; and Loaded Vixen. Royally-bred Maccool’s Girl regressed from her turf maiden score in a Tapeta allowance, but it’s premature to write off the Candy Ride filly. While Curlin Candy remains a maiden with seconditis, the well-bred daughter of Curlin and former Canadian Horse of the Year Caren has more to offer at the 1 1/8-mile trip.

Plate Trial – Race 7 (4:19 p.m. ET)

Todd Pletcher dispatches Causin’ Mayhem for the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial. The Chiefswood Stables homebred makes a simultaneous stakes, all-weather, and two-turn debut in the wake of a maiden win around Belmont’s one-turn mile. Pegged as the 5-2 second choice, the Into Mischief colt picks up Kimura.

Undefeated The Minkster ranks as the 2-1 favorite. The Danny Vella pupil answered multiple questions as a juvenile when successfully stretching out from a turf sprint romp to add the Coronation Futurity at this track and trip. The Minkster stayed perfect in his June 12 reappearance in the June 12 Queenston S., just lasting by a head, and the son of English Channel figures to move forward here. Queenston fourth Duke of Love has since finished second in the Marine (G3).

Also likely to improve is the Coronation Futurity runner-up, Dancin in Da’nile, who warmed up with a third in a turf allowance. A Sam-Son homebred trained by Gail Cox, Dancin in Da’nile is bred for the Canadian classics as a descendant of dual Hall of Famer Dance Smartly. Cox also has Guard of Honour, runner-up in a course-and-distance maiden to Casse’s Hall of Dreams. Casse is likewise double-handed with Sir for Sure, sixth to The Minkster in the Queenston.

Hendrie (G3) – Race 3 (2:10 p.m. ET)

Even-money favorite Boardroom is the one to beat in the 6 1/2-furlong Hendrie on the Tapeta. Ultra-consistent with a 9-6-2-1 record, the Carroll trainee captured her fourth stakes in the Royal North (G2) last out on turf. Her other three stakes scores came on this surface, most notably in the 2021 Whimsical (G3) and Seaway (G3).

Her main opponents are the past two Canadian champion female sprinters. Current champ Amalfi Coast was runner-up in last season’s Hendrie, when contested in October, but has yet to beat Boardroom. Artie’s Princess beat both Boardroom and Amalfi Coast in the 2020 Bessarabian (G2) to clinch that year’s Sovereign Award, but she’s raced only three times since. Switched to Saffie Joseph Jr. for 2022, Artie’s Princess regained the winning habit in the June 26 Ballade S. over Lorena.

La Libertee, a close third to Boardroom in the Royal North, was subsequently sixth on the stretch-out in the Nassau. Casse now turns her back in trip on Tapeta, where she placed in both the Hendrie and Bessarabian last fall in her most recent attempts on the surface.