REXDALE, Ont. – A field of 12 will attack Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor turf course late Saturday afternoon in the $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
The winner will earn an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in November.
It will definitely be worth the 100-mile trek up the Queen Elizabeth Way from downtown Buffalo to the suburban Toronto track to see this quality field, including several European stars, on one of Woodbine’s signature race days.
The 21st edition of the Woodbine Mile is one of three “Win and You’re In” races scheduled during the weekend at Woodbine. Four previous winners of the Breeders’ Cup Mile made starts in the Woodbine Mile in the same year.
The Woodbine Mile is scheduled to go to post at 6:34 p.m. and is Race 12 on the 13-race dance card. There are three other graded stakes on the undercard, including the Grade 1 Northern Dancer featuring Hawkbill, two races preceding the main event.
For the second year in a row Woodbine scheduled the Mile on Saturday versus the traditional Sunday slot for its major races. Last year the Woodbine Entertainment Group was rewarded with record handle for Woodbine Mile day of over $9.6 million, shattering the previous record numbers by over $2.4 million.
Trainer Mark Casse will look to record back-to-back victories after winning last year’s running with super filly Tepin. The multiple Sovereign Award-winning trainer will saddle two horses in the big race in World Approval (7-2) and Conquest Panthera (12-1).
World Approval comes off a magnificent performance in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Mile at Saratoga Race Course last month. The 5-year-old grey gelding eclipsed $1.4 million in career earnings with the win, his third stakes win of the year. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride the son of Northern Afleet.
He cut back to a mile distance for the first time all year, with the goal being the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Casse explained after the Fourstardave that World Approval likes to have a target to run at, the mile distance giving him the best chance at a Breeders’ Cup win. “When you run him farther, he doesn't get a target. If it's shorter, there's more speed, and he got a target and it looked like he loved it," Casse said after the Saratoga win.
Casse likes the way the Florida-bred millionaire is coming into the race. “He just seems to be getting better and better. And it was his first time in a long time we cut him back to a mile, which he seemed to really like,” he said.
Drawing the rail post, he should be able to save ground during the one-turn mile over turf that will likely be firm, based on the current weather forecast.
Conquest Panthera (12-1) won the local prep, the Grade 2 Play the King Stakes on Aug. 19 over the E.P. Taylor turf course. The 5-year-old gelding is a son of Kitten’s Joy and is a horse for the course, winning both of his races over the Woodbine grass.
Casse trains the son of Kitten’s Joy for MGM chief Gary Barber. “I thought his last race was good and this next race should be even better,” he said. Long-time Casse rider Patrick Husbands will retain the mount on the Conquest Panthera.
The local Buffalo hunch play is the third choice on the morning line named Lancaster Bomber (9-2). The 3-year-old son of War Front campaigned in Europe before shipping over to Woodbine as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup.
His last effort in the States was at Santa Anita last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, where he finished second behind Oscar Performance, a horse many think is the best 3-year-old in training. Wayne Lordan will ride for conditioner Aidan O’Brien who will have his first Woodbine Mile starter since 2006 when Ad Valorem ran third.
His breeding suggests that he has a big shot on Saturday, as War Front has produced a wide array of quality turf milers. He’s been tangling with some of the best European 3-year-old milers this year and holding his own. He will relish the firm turf and should be dangerous enough to crack the exacta.
Lancaster Bomber would be the first 3-year-old to win the Mile and he will only be carrying 112 pounds, a seven to 12 pound weight break against his elder competitors.
O’Brien will also send out the race favorite in Deauville (5-2) with Jamie Spencer scheduled to ride the 4-year-old Galileo colt. He comes out of the mile-and-a-quarter Arlington Million where he was caught at the wire by Beach Patrol.
The cutback in distance should suit this talented colt who hasn’t missed the board in his last six starts since a rough effort in the Dubai Turf at Meydan in March. He is in good form but he may be better suited for longer distances. His class and form put him right in the mix however and he will be a tough horse to ignore.
The field also includes 2015 Woodbine Mile winner Mondialiste (8-1) and last year’s runner-up and local favorite Tower of Texas (12-1).
Once again, Woodbine has dialed up a big day north of the border on its world class turf course.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – World Approval; 2 – Lancaster Bomber; 3 – Deauville; 4 – Conquest Panthera
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.