TORONTO, December 10, 2017 – Leavem in Malibu scored a front-running victory in the $125,000 Valedictory Stakes (Grade 3) for Mark Casse, who finished second in the trainer standings for the first time in over a decade as Norm McKnight took the lead with a five-win performance during Woodbine’s final program of the 2017 Thoroughbred season on Sunday.
Jockey Patrick Husbands guided Leavem in Malibu ($9.40) to victory over even-money favourite Melmich in the last stakes race of the meet for owners Gary Barber and Conrad Farms.
Sent postward as the 7-2 second choice in the 12-horse field, the four-year-old Malibu Moon-Leaveminthedust colt rebuffed a challenge from Ethical Funds and David Moran during the 1-3/4 mile marathon and prevailed in 2:58.92 by two and a half lengths over the late-closing Melmich, who made a sweeping four-wide move on the final turn in rein to Woodbine’s top jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva. Ethical Funds settled for third.
“I studied the racing form all last night. All the time I saw this horse is a galloper,” said Husbands. “I went over the form about 300 times. I said, you know what, I’m going to let this horse run away and see what these guys are going to do in the first mile. And they left me the first mile and he was just playing with them.
“He was just galloping,” said Husbands of being headed by Ethical Funds on the backstretch. “I never really worried about David. You’ve got one class horse in the race and he has a serious turn of foot and I didn’t want to risk a sprint home so I was just keeping my eyes on David, but worried about Eurico coming. But I was doing it so easy, I was never really worried. He ran a good race.”
In the close race for the trainers title that went right down to the wire, McKnight won five of the 14 races on closing day to pull ahead of perennial leader Casse in the standings. McKnight ended up with a three-win lead over Casse (99-96). Casse, once again, topped all trainers for earnings with more than $6.9 million in purses and won a meet-leading 18 stakes, including his second consecutive $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Grade 1) on September 16 with Live Oak Plantation’s World Approval, who went on to Breeders’ Cup glory. The final podium position went to trainer Kevin Attard, who finished the meet just one win ahead of Martin Drexler and Sid Attard with 43 victories.
Da Silva, who had four photo ops on Sunday, topped the jockey standings for the fifth time winning a total of 203 races, including 34 stakes to come within two wins of Woodbine’s single-season record for most stakes victories. Da Silva rode seven of his stakes winners in October alone, including the 2017 Pattison Canadian International (Grade 1) champion Bullards Alley, who upset at 42-1 scoring by a record margin of 10-3/4 lengths for trainer Tim Glyshaw and owners Wayne Spalding and Faron McCubbins. Other highlights for the reinsman included teaming up with the Entourage Stable’s Pink Lloyd, the winningest horse of the meet who earned a record eight straight stakes at Woodbine for trainer Robert Tiller, as well as Stephen Chesney & Cory Hoffman’s Melmich for four earlier stakes wins for trainer Kevin Attard. In total, Da Silva’s mounts earned more than $10.88 million in purses.
Luis Contreras was the second-leading jockey of the meet with 170 wins and Rafael Hernandez rounded out the top three with 154 victories. Contreras was aboard Stronach Stables’ Holy Helena as the filly beat the boys in the 158th running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate on July 2 after taking the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks in June. The James Jerkens trainee was the leading money-winning horse of the meet courtesy of those two major wins. Contreras also scored a big win in the $300,000 Northern Dancer (Grade 1) with 9-1 shot Johnny Bear defeating the favoured European invader Hawkbill by a head for trainer Ashlee Brnjas and owners Colebrook Farms & Bear Stables. Meanwhile, Hernandez earned his second straight victory in the $400,000 Breeders’ Stakes as Channel Maker nosed out Final Copy in the August 20 Triple Crown leg for trainer Bill Mott and owners Joey Gee Thoroughbreds, Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber.
Bruno Schickedanz led all owners in the win category for the third straight year with his horses finishing first in 69 races at Woodbine, including 65 while teaming up with McKnight as the meet’s top owner-trainer combo. Chiefswood Stable ranked second with 24 wins, including seven stakes races, and amassed more than $2.16 million in purses to top the standings for earnings. Ryan S. Kerbel rounded out the top three for wins with 22. Stronach Stables’ $2.13 million earnings were second-best.
Other Grade 1 stakes winners at the 2017 meet include Barbara Keller’s Blond Me in the $500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes with Oisin Murphy aboard for trainer Andrew Balding, and Team Valor International’s Capla Temptress in the $250,000 Natalma Stakes with Joel Rosario up for trainer Marco Botti.
Live Thoroughbred racing will return to Woodbine next spring on Saturday, April 21, 2018 while Standardbred racing will continue to run four days a week at Woodbine throughout the winter months and will return to its permanent home at Woodbine, Mohawk Park in April 2018 for racing all year-round.
Credit: Woodbine Racetrack