TORONTO – The world’s best turf mare will make her debut appearance on Woodbine’s famous turf course Saturday afternoon in the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
Tepin will bring a seven-race win streak to Toronto that includes a win in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile in addition to a historic win at Royal Ascot in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes in June.
It will definitely be worth the 100-mile trek up the Queen Elizabeth Way from downtown Buffalo to the suburban Toronto track to see her take on seven males in one of Woodbine’s signature races. She drew outside post No. 8 in Wednesday’s draw. Canadian gold medal-winning wrestler Erica Wiese served as the draw master.
Tepin is trained by multiple Sovereign-winning trainer Mark Casse, who was instrumental in bringing her to Woodbine after spending the summer in Saratoga. His son and assistant trainer Norman is excited to show her to Canadian racing fans.
“I’m really happy that we’re bringing a horse like this to Woodbine,” said the younger Casse. “This is kind of our home track so we really want to showcase her.”
Woodbine Chairman of the Board Jim Lawson was ecstatic that Team Casse brought her to Woodbine and touted the great turf course as part of the reason.
“I think we pride ourselves on being able to attract quality fields,” said Lawson. “We try to attract the best horses in the world for our grass course. It’s getting more and more competitive and you have to be mindful of where you fit with respect to the Breeders’ Cup. This was a great coup for us, she did have other choices,” said Lawson.
The Mile, in addition to two other races on the big card, are all part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” program. The Mile winner automatically qualifies for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The winner of the Mile has hit the board in the Breeders’ Cup Mile for five consecutive years.
For the first time in its 20-year history the Mile will be held on a Saturday, instead of its usual Sunday home. Lawson seems to think it will have a positive impact on wagering results.
“NFL football has turned into a monster all over the world in terms of fan participation. Some of the U.S. tracks have been sensitive to that and have moved their major races to Saturday,” he said. “With respect to horseplayers, when we have a big card here and we’re competing with the major U.S. tracks, if we go head-to-head with them we actually do better.”
Julien Leparoux comes off an injury that made him miss most of the Saratoga meeting to ride Tepin. He will look to become the second jockey to complete a Queen’s Plate–Woodbine Mile sweep. He won the Queen’s Plate in June aboard Sir Dudley Digges and will ride the 1-2 morning line favorite. The last jockey to complete the sweep was Kent Desormeaux in 1998 with wins on Archer’s Bay (Plate) and Labeeb (Mile).
The weatherman is warning that rain is in the forecast for this afternoon, but Norm Casse all but said to bring it on after winning the Queen Anne in soft going.
“She’s obviously won on soft going; she may actually even prefer it,” said the younger Casse. “It’s not going to hurt our feelings if it rains. I’m really happy that we’re bringing a horse like this to Woodbine. This is kind of our home track so we really want to showcase her.”
She’s been off since the Queen Anne in June, the hot weather of Saratoga and the travel back from England both taking its toll on last year’s female turf champion.
“She had to do a lot of traveling to get back to Saratoga,” said Casse. “She was in England, she had to go on a long train ride to get on a plane to go to New York City. She stayed in quarantine for three or four days. Then she went to Belmont, two days later she goes to Churchill, then she goes from Churchill back to Saratoga. I think anyone would have been wiped,” he said.
After the heat broke in Saratoga, her workouts improved and the assistant trainer is sure she’s ready to roll. “The key to this race is just going to be do we have her ready enough that she’s going to run the same races she’s been running. All indications are that she is, so she’s going to be really tough to beat,” said Casse.
The competition includes both foreign invaders and local Woodbine turf horses looking to pull the upset. Mutakayyef (7-2) is the second choice on the morning line and has never missed the board in 13 career races. He finished third behind the very talented Postponed last out in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York in England.
Trainer William Haggan thinks the 5-year-old is starting to come into his own. “He has made a significant step up,” said Haggan. “He has been much improved since his gelding operation last winter and his form is strong, although not quite as strong as Tepin.”
Local Woodbine trainer Mike De Paolo entered Passion for Action (20-1) who has mostly raced at sprint distances, but will stretch out in hopes of pulling the big upset.
“He’s a tough little guy. This will be the first time he goes a mile in a while, but I’m not really worried about the distance,” De Paolo said. “He won the Cup and Saucer when he was 2 at a mile and a sixteenth on this course.“
De Paolo isn’t fazed by the presence of Tepin and is hoping to catch her off her game.
“We’re going to take a big shot at it. It’s a small field and she’s [Tepin] never run here before. She hasn’t run for a bit and we’re hoping that’s going to work against her,” he said.
Another foreign invader with big hopes is Arod (10-1), a 5-year-old son of Teofilo, out of a Rahy mare. He’s faced some solid competition, finishing third to Lightning Spear in his last effort, a horse that finished third behind Tepin in the Queen Anne by less than two lengths.
In the winner’s circle on Kentucky Derby day after Tepin won the Grade 2 Distaff Turf on the undercard, Mark Casse proclaimed that Tepin is the best horse he has ever trained. She backed it up at Royal Ascot and the show now moves to his longtime home track.
Here’s hoping she’ll deliver a big performance in front of the Canadian faithful.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Tepin; 2 – Mutakayyef (GB); 3 – Passion for Action; 4 - Arod.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.