ETOBICOKE, Ont. –Woodbine-based jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva, planning to retire after a long career at season’s end, captured the one big race that has eluded him over the years on Saturday afternoon.
Riding 44-1 longshot El Tormenta up the rail down the stretch, the son of Stormy Atlantic held off heavy favorite Got Stormy to win the 23rd edition of the $1 million Woodbine Mile.
The winner completed the mile trek in 1:32.60 over the famous E.P. Taylor turf course that was rated good on a sunny, breezy day at Woodbine Racetrack in suburban Toronto.
The result earned El Tormenta an automatic bid into this year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile with the victory. The Mile will be held on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park in Southern California.
Trainer Gail Cox won her first Woodbine Mile and became the first female conditioner to win the race.
El Tormenta returned $91.40 to his backers for the win, a record win mutuel for the race. He broke the previous mark of $91.10 by Quiet Resolve in 1999.
The winner returned $21.40 to place and $9.50 for the show. Second-place finisher Got Stormy returned $3.90 for the placing and $2.80 for the show. Post Time selection Raging Bull finished third and paid $2.80 to show. The $1 exacta paid $172.35 and the $1 trifecta returned $688.05.
Rosa da Silva guided the winner to a half-length win over the filly, who had won the Fourstardave at Saratoga in August. The jockey returned in front of the Woodbine grandstand to cheers. The jock responded with cries of “Canada, Canada, Canada,” recognizing his mount as an Ontario-bred against a field full of internationally recognized horses.
Through his long career racing at Woodbine the six-time Sovereign Award-wining jockey has captured all of the big Canadian races, including the Queen’s Plate, the Prince of Wales (Fort Erie), the Woodbine Oaks, the Breeders’ Stakes and the Canadian International.
The one that has eluded him though, was the Woodbine Mile. He became the first local jockey to capture the race since 2004, when Todd Kabel won aboard Soaring Free.
It was only fitting that it would come during his swan song season as he prepares for life after the racetrack. “This is a decision I did for my kids,” said da Silva. “After being a jockey for 30 years, now it’s time for me to be a father and a husband,” said da Silva.
After stalking the leaders earlier in the race from the rail, da Silva patiently waited for a hole to open and as he hit the top of the stretch he found that hole. “He was very, very focused. When we turned for home I had lots of horse, we just took off from there,” said da Silva.
An emotional da Silva lauded the owners, Sam-Son Farm, after the race, believing in him over the years and trusting him with their horses. “I want to thank Sam-Son Farm. I have been with these people a long time, and they breed them to win big races,” said the jockey.
It was a record-extending fourth Woodbine Mile win for Sam-Son Farm, winning previous editions in 1991, 1999 and 2004. They won their eighth Woodbine Oaks this year with Desert Ride.
The Ontario-based breeding operation has been a staple of Canadian racing for years and ending the 15-year drought between wins made it all the better for Michael Balaz, who was representing the ownership group.
“This is as sweet as any,” said Balaz. “That’s all I can say. It’s great to see him doing so well, and credit to Gail for the great job with him all year long. He hasn’t run a bad race. I’m lost for words. It’s so special,” said Balaz.
For trainer Mark Casse, a third Mile win in four years was not to be with his hard-trying filly, Got Stormy.
“I was proud of her,” said Casse. “I knew, this is a tough place to win. There is a huge home field advantage. This will be fine. This will set her up. They still have to beat her, I think, in California,” said Casse.
Got Stormy jockey Tyler Gaffalione is looking forward to a rematch in the Breeders’ Cup in November. “I’m looking forward to her in the Breeders’ Cup. I think she’ll be dynamite out there. This track is a one-turn mile, it’s a long course.”
El Tormenta finally got the perfect trip over the Woodbine turf on Saturday. His prior races comment lines are full of wide trips, bumps at the start and traffic trouble.
Being down on the inside was also a benefit. Gaffalione commented on how hard it was on the inside of the turf down the stretch as he walked it with Casse after the race, versus the outside paths.
Cox will take her second Breeders’ Cup starter to California, her last participant was the filly Hard Not to Like, who ran in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf. Saturday was a big day for the conditioner born and raided in Toronto in her first Woodbine Mile.
Training since 2006, the former show rider captured her first career Grade 1 with the win. “Oh it’s huge. It’s a Grade 1 win and it’s a ‘Win and You’re In,’ so it’s huge,” said Cox. “He’s tough as nails, he’s very competitive and doesn’t give up.”
“This was my last opportunity to win this race – it was the only one left. And this was my opportunity, and here we are. I kept telling myself, ‘Just focus on what you need to focus on, and keep faith in your horse.’ And that’s what I did,” said da Silva.
The veteran jockey will make his seventh trip to a Breeders’ Cup with a chance to ride off in the sunset aboard his Woodbine Mile bomber, El Tormenta.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.