The $800,000 G1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile, which forms the centrepiece of a stunning two days at Woodbine Racetrack next weekend, has been a staple on the Toronto track’s calendar since its inauguration in 1988. Thrilling renewals include Canadian heroes Izvestia, Dance Smartly and Peteski storming to victory, and the fan-favorite gelding Wise Dan scoring in consecutive years.
Arguably the most popular victory of late was when the mare Tepin gutted out the final win of her storied career in her first and only Canadian start last year.
Her conditioner, Mark Casse, who has collected nine Sovereign Awards as Canada’s leading trainer, captured his first Mile win with Tepin, an emotional experience that rocked the grandstand on a wet day suddenly lit by a rainbow at post time.
Next Saturday, Casse will try to become only the second trainer to win consecutive Woodbine Miles, following Charles LoPresti’s three back-to-back scores with Turallure and Wise Dan from 2011-2013.
Two shots at glory
Casse has two chances in this year’s Mile - with Conquest Panthera and World Approval. And, while they have big shoes to follow Tepin, they will be given every shot to try.
“Tepin to us was like no other,” Casse said. “She won the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and then for her to go and do what she did at Ascot was amazing.”
In 2016, Tepin won the G1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, defeating a strong field of colts. “Then, when we came to Toronto and Woodbine, it was like coming home. We hadn’t won that race before, and to bring her there and have her win, well, words can’t even describe it.”
Fans in the grandstand chanted Tepin’s name as she jogged back to the winner’s circle, making the experience even more magical for Casse and his team. Tepin was retired earlier this season with 13 wins in 23 starts and $4.4 million in earnings. Her presence in the barn is genuinely missed.
“When you have a filly like her and she takes you everywhere to all the big races, of course you miss her,” Casse said. “But, in all honesty, there’s a relief there, too. You always expect so much of her, and you don’t want to let her down, or her fans down. But I miss not racing her because as a trainer that’s what I live for. She’s definitely missed.”
Winning the Woodbine Mile, which is a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, was a boon to Casse’s operation. “Woodbine has been a large part of my life for the last 25 years,” Casse said.
He has won 12 training titles at the Toronto oval, and has been named the Sovereign Champion Trainer nine times. “So much of what we’ve been able to achieve all over is a result of what started at Woodbine. There’s no way we would be where we are today without it.”
Changing race format
Although the Woodbine Mile is now a one-mile contest on the turf, it wasn’t always that way. It was run at 1¼ miles on dirt for its first three editions, then was shortened to 1⅛ miles until 1996, while being restricted to sophomores. During that time, United States shippers such as Hall of Famer Skip Away and popular gelding Dramatic Gold won the trophy.
In 1997 it debuted in its current format as a turf mile for older horses. While Canadian runners often win, plenty of shippers - such as the Juddmonte Farms-owned mare Ventura and the European runners Trade Storm and Mondialiste (a likely runner again this time) - have also scored.
This year, a handful of Europeans are expected to take on Casse’s duo, including the Aidan O’Brien trained pair Deauville and Lancaster Bomber. Conquest Panthera is the ‘local’ horse, having won Woodbine’s Mile prep, the G2 Play the King Stakes, while World Approval is coming in off a G1 triumph at Saratoga.
“We bought Conquest Panthera as a 2-year-old for Conquest Stables,” Casse said. “He’s a horse that has extreme amounts of talent, and he won his first start at Del Mar very impressively.”
Conquest Panthera broke his maiden in his debut by 1¼ lengths despite a bad break, then tackled G1 company in Santa Anita’s Norfolk Stakes. He finished seventh, beaten a dozen lengths by future Triple Crown hero American Pharoah.
“He got hurt in that race,” Casse explained. “It took us a long time to get him back, and we only got him going right just before the Conquest Stables dispersal sale. I told [current owner] Gary Barber that I liked the horse and he had a lot of talent, and I thought his issues were behind him. Luckily, Gary let us buy him.”
Conquest Panthera, a $475,000 purchase by Conquest Stables at the OBS March Select Sale of Two Year Olds in Training, cost only $100,000 at the dispersal.
Since then, the son of Kitten’s Joy won an allowance prep at Gulfstream Park in January and has run exclusively in Graded stakes since. He was third in the Canadian Turf Stakes and Keeneland’s G1 Maker’s 46 Mile. After running sixth in a G1 event on Kentucky Derby day, Conquest Panthera was third in the G2 Wise Dan Stakes at Churchill Downs. His gritty score in the Play the King by a neck was a reward for Casse’s faith.
Broodmare’s stellar record
Conquest Panthera’s dam, the Sky Mesa mare Lastofthsummerwine, has produced three winners from three starters. While Conquest Panthera is her only stakes winner, half-siblings Maniacal and Happy Like A Fool are both G2-placed. Despite this stellar start to her career, her record as a broodmare pales in comparison to that of World Approval’s dam, Win Approval.
The winning mare has produced eight winners from nine foals for total progeny earnings of $7.3 million. Her first, Revved Up, won a staggering 14 stakes, while second foal Miesque’s Approval won the Breeders’ Cup Mile and earned $2.6 million. Her Ghostzapper gelding Za Approval earned $1.3 million and was second in both the Woodbine Mile and the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2013.
Enter dual G1 winner World Approval, a spitting image of his older brother Za Approval. He was known primarily as a router, winning the G1 United Nations Stakes in 2016 and adding the G2 Longines Dixie Stakes on Preakness day this year. Casse’s ghost-colored gray then cut back to a mile to win the $500,000 G1 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, beating the likes of Time Test and Disco Partner.
“World Approval is an entirely different story,” Casse said. “He comes from Live Oak Stud, which is owned by Mrs Charlotte Weber, who has been a part of Ocala, Florida, where I was raised, and she’s always been someone I wanted to train for. I am now very proud to train for her, and here’s a horse out of an unbelievable mare. He’s a lot like Tepin, I’m not sure if he started out this nice and became better and better, but right now he’s on top of his game.”
Either horse winning the Woodbine Mile would be a boon to the Casse barn as they cope with the retirement of Tepin and a perplexing racing season by their Eclipse Award Champion Two Year Old, Classic Empire. Casse is well on his way to another Woodbine training title, with more than double the number of wins and earnings of his nearest competitor.
Another win in the Mile would help make Tepin’s absence more bearable.
EARLY LOOK AT THE WOODBINE MILE FIELD
David Simcock (GB)
Mrs Fitri Hay & Coolmore Partners
Aidan O’Brien (Ire)
Mrs. Patricia A. Generazio
Brent McLellan, Russell McLellan, Stuart C. Simon
Charlie Hills (GB)
Aidan O’Brien (Ire)
Long On Value
Wachtel Stable, George Kerr and Gary Barber
Geoff & Sandra Turnbull
David O'Meara (GB)
Tower Of Texas
Thomas F. Van Meter II & Scott Dilworth
Live Oak Plantation
Hawkbill settles in
Other highlights at Woodbine next weekend include the G1 Northern Dancer Stakes (mile and a half on turf) and the G2 Canadian Stakes (for fillies and mares over 1¼ miles on turf), both on Saturday, and two more Breeders’ Cup qualifiers on Sunday - the G1 Natalma Stakes over a mile on turf (for the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf) and the G2 Summer Stakes, also over a mile on turf (BC Juvenile Turf).
One of the leading candidates for the $300,000 Northern Dancer, which is the major local prep for the $800,000 G1 Pattison Canadian International over the same course and distance on October 15, is Hawkbill, who is trained in England by Charlie Appleby and owned by Godolphin. He arrived at Woodbine on Tuesday.
“It was a long journey, but the horse traveled brilliantly,” said traveling head lass Sophia Chretien, who accompanied Hawkbill along with exercise rider Wayne Hogg.
Hawkbill, a 4-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy, is proven in G1 company, having claimed last year’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park. He will be the first starter in Canada for Appleby, who won the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita in 2013 with Outstrip in his first of two career tries south of the border.
Woodbine Mile draw available livestream
Wednesday’s draw for the Ricoh Woodbine Mile will be streamed live on WoodbineMile.com starting at 12 p.m. Also available there are featured news, race replays, history, facts, exclusive interviews and more surrounding the Mile.