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Jockey Alex Solis celebrates with the Woodbine Oaks trophy
The $500,000 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser is the most important race for 3-year-old fillies foaled in Canada. A field of 9 went 1 1/8 miles over the Polytrack on Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. Conditions were less than ideal all day, with intermittent rains, temperatures in the low 60's, and a stiff 20 MPH headwind through the stretch, but the skies cleared in time for the feature As expected, Queen's Plate winter book favorite Dixie Strike was sent off as the 9-10 favorite off her win in the Selene Stakes (G3). In to challenge her included 2-1 second choice Northern Passion, winner of the Fury last out, and 8-1 third choice Black Bird Rock, after breaking her maiden in her second career start.
Irish Mission takes the lead in the stretch.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 8 Irish Mission Solis 20.50 7.50 8.80 4 Northern Passion Contreras 4.30 5.30 3 Awesome Fire Wilson 17.10 Winning Time: 1:50.50 $2 Exacta 8-4 86.80 $2 Trifecta 8-4-3 1,167.20 $1 Superfecta 8-4-3-5 2,771.45
Left: Irish Mission in the winner's circle with trainer Mark Frostad at her hip. Frostad said, "It's always a thrill to win this race, it's a huge race here, and a very nice filly. It was a big step up for her, she went from a maiden race to the Oaks, it's a big step. But, she's been improving all along, and as she's getting older she's got a lot stronger. That has to be decided, I will talk to Robert S and Patrick, and we will see how she comes out of the race and how she bounces back." This was Frostad's fourth Oaks win.
Right: Winning owner Robert Evans leads Irish Mission while jockey Alex Solis tosses flowers as they parade for the fans. Evans said, "She has been doing very well, she's a great big filly, and it's taking her a while to develop, it's her 9th start. Mark Frostad has been doing a wonderful job training her, he said all along she was an Oaks filly, and sure enough she was. He advised me to buy her as a yearling in Saratoga, and I did, and he said that she would be an Oaks filly, now he's won it with her. That's terrific. We might come back in the Queen's Plate, if she comes out of this race well, but, it looks pretty tough though." This was Evans' first Woodbine Oaks win, with his first starter.
Left: Irish Mission in the paddock with trainer Mark Frostad giving instructions to jockey Alex Solis. Solis, riding her for the first time said, "Yes, I worked her a few times. I really liked what I had underneath me, a very nice feeling. The way she ran, she had high motion speed, and she could stay the distance, we had the mind to keep it close to the pace and soon as we hit the turn, she kept going. She sure did, showed determination, from the 3/8 portion to the outside. The more that I asked her, the more she gave. I am so glad to be here." This was Solis' first Woodbine Oaks win, with his first mount.
Right: Irish Mission gets ready to head back to the barn after the race. She is the first winner since Kimchi in 2006 to make the Oaks her first stakes win. She broke her maiden last time out at Keeneland.
Left: Second place finisher Northern Passion returns after the race. The 2-1 second choice was 7th early under jockey Luis Contreras, rallied well but just missed. The Mark Casse trainee improved her record to 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 0 thirds in 8 starts, earning $339,760 for owner John Oxley.
Right: Third place finisher Awesome Fire in the post parade. Her jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson said, "She ran an unbelievable race. She battled every inch down the lane. She was cruising along, I gave her a cue and she kicked on. We just got nosed out for second, but she gave it everything she had. (Laughing) I was getting 10 tweets a day from Hugh leading up to the race about what we should do and it worked out. I'm happy for him and I'm proud of how she performed."
Left: Fifth place finisher and beaten favorite Dixie Strike in the paddock before the race. Her jockey Patrick Husbands said, "I had a beautiful trip. She'll be back."
Right: The entire field shortly after the start of the 2012 Woodbine Oaks.
Left: Jockey Jim McAleney celebrates as River Rush heads to the winner's circle. Jim McAleney said, "This horse ran tremendous for me. Reade gave me some instruction - if you can save some ground it would really help - so opted to do as he'd suggested. We had such wonderful trip. It was just great. Absolutely (ride in the Plate). It's really exciting. If can get on a horse in a race like this with these connections and with the Stronachs and know we're not here for the sake of being here, I know I can ride the best race I can ride."
Right: River Rush in the winner's circle. Dan Duncan, representative for winning owner-breeder Stronach Stables said, "Certainly down the backstretch, it looked like he had enough horse. The pedigree of the horse indicated the distance would suit him. Ideally, the trainer and the Stronachs wished to have run him in an easier race, but time was getting tight. Everyone is ecstatic I'm certain." Trainer Reade Baker added, "(We were) hung up on the outside at 20-1 with a maiden. I thought he'd close well but I didn't think he would be that quick."
Left: Second place finisher Incredicat leads first time by. Trainer Ian Black said, "Huge. A great run. It was a big effort. He went quick the whole way. I know the track is probably very fast today and he beat all the ones we thought we had to beat and a maiden beat him. Alex (Solis) says that he'll go 1 1/4 and he doesn't have to tell me that. We'll see how he is and watch the replay and see what we do."
Right: Third place finisher Classic Bryce returns after the race. Trainer Darwin Banach said, "I thought it was fantastic. He still isn't a 100%, but in three weeks we plan on having him at 100%. The plan, since January, was to be in the Plate. That's our goal and we're sticking to it." Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson added, "He really tried and he ran very well. With the blinkers on, Todd (trainer Pletcher) and I thought he'd be a little sharper and he was. It was good. He ran his race."
Kicking off the stakes action on Woodbine Oaks day was the $100,000 Alywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Jockey Patrick Husbands sent 3-1 second choice Dene Court to the lead and she set fractions of 23.16 and 46.43 over the good turf course, while pressed by 4-1 third choice Man Stuff and 3-4 favorite Tu Endie Wei. Into the lane, Dene Court continued to lead, getting 3/4 in 1:11.71, and was all out to hold off late-running 10-1 Blue Heart to get the win by a neck in 1:18.79. It was a head back to Man Stuff and late-running 9-1 Sky Dreamer who dead-heated for third, while favorite Tu Endie Wei faded badly to finish last beaten 11 1/4 lengths.
Winning jockey Patrick Husbands said, "I was trying to get away from them halfway down the lane and as we got away from them, she stopped. And when they came back, she was going again. She's all about class."
Full results chart from DRF
The award is presented annually on Oaks day, the anniversary of Gomez's death from complications after a three-horse spill in the 1980 running. A life-size statue of Gomez overlooks the Woodbine walking ring, and each year's honoree received a replica. Bahen said, "I didn't know Avelino, but I watched him ride when I was a kid. He was just so strong as a jockey. You hear everyone around the racetrack still talk about him. There are so many great stories. I went to Fort Erie with my Dad because he was playing in an exhibition baseball game against the jockeys. Avelino shows up in a cut-off t-shirt, cut-off shorts and no shoes. He steps up to the plate, hits one a mile and gets a home run. He crosses home plate and then just left. I must have been six or seven years old and I haven't forgotten that moment."
To the left, Bahen accepts the trophy from Jacqui Gomez, daughter of Avelino Gomez. To the right, Bahen is congratulated by the rest of the Woodbine jockey colony. He said, "Receiving this award means a lot. To see the people that have been recognized, it makes this very special." He joins Ron Turcotte, Johnny Longden, Sandy Hawley, Don MacBeth, Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, Jim McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, Robert Landry, Francine Villeneuve, Sam Krasner, John LeBlanc Sr., George Ho Sang, Jack Lauzon, Robert King Jr., Stewart Elliott, and last year's recipient, Emile Ramsammy, as Gomez honourees.
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