It's back-to-back trips north of the border in this space as last week's Queen's Plate has given way to the Grade 1 $1 million Woodbine Mile on Saturday. Woodbine's 2 premier days on the calendar follow in succession, and a top-class field that includes 2019 Preakness Stakes winner WAR OF WILL fills the marquee. The Woodbine Mile will be Race 9 of 12 on a program that gets underway at 1:10 pm ET.
Grade 1 winners WAR OF WILL and STARSHIP JUBILEE own the field's biggest victories and have faced elite competition in the turf male and turf female divisions. MARCH TO THE ARCH is a Grade 2 winner, while SHIRL'S SPEIGHT and ADMIRALTY PIER have registered Grade 3 victories.
Likely front-runner ADMIRALTY PIER dueled and tired in this race last year and would be the target if kept in this race. He's cross-entered in the same-day Singspiel Stakes. A talented group of pressers includes SHIRL'S SPEIGHT, WAR OF WILL and STARSHIP JUBILEE. It's tough to see this race getting beyond those 3, especially if ADMIRALTY PIER was to redirect to the Singspiel.
Trainer Mark Casse won the Woodbine Mile in 2016 (Tepin) and 2017 (World Approval) and has 3 shots for the hat trick. Not only is WAR OF WILL formidable in this spot, but there's MARCH TO THE ARCH coming off a highly impressive local prep in the Grade 3 King Edward. The barn also has longshot OLYMPIC RUNNER on the class rise, and he'll partner with last week's Queen's Plate-winning rider Daisuke Fukumoto. But it's WAR OF WILL and MARCH TO THE ARCH who give a powerful early-late combination. Jockey Rafael Hernandez rode MARCH TO THE ARCH to victory in the King Edward, but he jumps to pilot WAR OF WILL as regular rider Tyler Gaffalione is grounded due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. WAR OF WILL's outside post draw looks perfect for the 1-turn mile with a very long run to the only turn, and note that Hernandez's 21% win rate the past year in Woodbine turf miles is co-best in the colony with Justin Stein, rider of STARSHIP JUBILEE. The pace scenario, post position and rider assignment for WAR OF WILL makes him the Casse contender to fear most.
The 7-year-old mare STARSHIP JUBILEE takes on the boys in her Woodbine homecoming. She's accumulated 6 victories here in her career, 1 more than the rest of the Woodbine Mile field combined. Her 8: 5-2-0 record at the turf mile trip suits her well, even if she's been racing longer trips for the past year. The tempo will be very interesting as STARSHIP JUBILEE has caught repeated races with slow paces. But the one time that they went fast early this year, in February's Suwanee River at Gulfstream, she ran the best race on her form. She might actually be sharper in these mile races than what's been assigned for the last year-plus. Even if she's been facing fillies and mares, no one is going to argue with running lines vs. Rushing Fall, Sistercharlie and Mean Mary. That's first class.
SHIRL'S SPEIGHT is a big X-factor in the Woodbine Mile. The 3-year-old colt dazzled in his debut, delivered in his stakes reappearance in the Grade 3 Marine and was being aimed for the Kentucky Derby. But he reportedly developed a cough in late August and missed the run for the roses. He went 18 days without a work between August 21 and September 8, but returned with a bullet 5 furlongs in :59.80 that gave trainer Roger Attfield aspirations for the Woodbine Mile. At 120 pounds, he'll tote 6 less than WAR OF WILL -- but he loses the only pilot he's ever known (Rafael Hernandez) to that rival. Kazushi Kimura picks up the assignment.
Trainer Chad Brown sends VALUE PROPOSITION to Woodbine for the first time, and it's a barn that always merits respect. VALUE PROPOSITION was beaten favorite in the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont in July in only his second start in the last 14 months. He got zero pace help in the Poker and has trained forwardly since then. Luis Contreras picks up the mount, but this one could be hard-pressed to outkick the pace-pressers late after spotting them the early advantage.
The field also includes ARMISTICE DAY, stablemate of ADMIRALTY PIER. Their trainer Barbara Minshall has had her charges on point in the past 2 weeks at Woodbine, going 9: 3-1-1 during that time. Either would be a surprise to pull this off, but both are local turf stakes winners.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: STARSHIP JUBILEE has finished in the superfecta in 16 straight races, and has excellent marks at the course and distance.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: SHIRL'S SPEIGHT at 8-1 morning line could be any kind of runner based on his first 2 starts. This is a major leap and test, especially after a recent cough, but that kind of price does interest.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $60 win STARSHIP JUBILEE. $15 exacta box STARSHIP JUBILEE with WAR OF WILL ($30). $5 exacta box STARSHIP JUBILEE with SHIRL'S SPEIGHT ($10).