a long weekend at Woodbine

As silly as it sounds, I would never have gotten on a plane to Toronto for the Woodbine Mile last week if it were not for the insistence of one sassy tweeting barn cat. But, thanks to plenty of tweets threatening whips to anyone who missed the Gator Kitten Mile, I decided I would plan my first international racing trip. I booked my flight and hotel back in May, and looked forward to that racing adventure all summer.

Of course, meeting that sassy barn cat was one of the first things that happened during my long weekend at Gatorbine.  Gator’s momma Sarah picked me up from the airport, and I brought over some presents for the feline who runs the barn.

gatorbitetemptations
Gator, the charismatic barn cat who rules over Mark Frostad’s barn, demands full-service feeding of the treats I brought.

Gator models the gator costume that Penelope brought him.
Gator models the alligator costume Penelope brought him.

The Queen of the Turf

Sometimes royalty makes demands.  As befits the Queen, my schedule most of the days I was in Toronto revolved around Tepin, at least as far as my alarm was concerned. Thursday and Friday, she went out at 6am, which meant we had to be out at the track in time to see her. I’m no morning person, but for some reason, a 5am alarm is a lot easier to heed if getting out of bed meant getting up close to the best turf miler in the world.

Amid the media hubbub and the normal barn activity, Norm Casse walks Tepin around the barn after her morning gallop.
Amid the media hubbub and the normal barn activity, Norm Casse walks Tepin around the barn after her Thursday morning gallop.
Friday morning, Tepin was determined to munch on the grass closest to the horse walker.
Friday morning, Tepin was determined to munch on the grass closest to the horse walker.

She looked confident and fit all week long, and though Tower of Texas gave her a scare in the late stages, Tepin kept her win streak intact under a well-planned ride by Julien Leparoux.

A determined Tepin held safe from Tower of Texas and Mutakayyef to win the Woodbine Mile.
A determined Tepin held safe from Tower of Texas and Mutakayyef to win the Woodbine Mile.
Julien Leparoux pats Tepin after she won the Woodbine Mile.
Julien Leparoux pats Tepin after she won the Woodbine Mile.
Tepin had her serious face on as she left the winners' circle.
Tepin had her serious face on as she left the winners’ circle.

Even Sunday’s schedule revolved around Tepin. After her Woodbine Mile victory, Tepin may have been as tired as all the writers and photographers who were chasing her around before sunrise through the week. But, tired as she may have been, she was happy to pose for some pictures and beg adoring fans of all ages for as many peppermints (but only American mints — none of those softer Canadian peppermint balls!) as they would part with.

"You really thought you could catch me, Tower of Texas?" -- Tepin
“You really thought you could catch me, Tower of Texas?” — Tepin
Tepin makes a lifelong horse racing fan.
Tepin makes a lifelong horse racing fan.

Horses from Home: Celebrating The Pizza Man, and Remembering Yo Carm

My penchant for seeing hometown horses when I hit the road continued, as well. I went to Tampa Bay Downs earlier this year, and spent much of my time both in the mornings and on race days taking pictures of horses I remembered from Chicago. Even though The Pizza Man is Illinois-bred, even though I have seen him race so many times, last weekend at Woodbine was the first time I had ever gotten to see him outside of competition. Friday morning, he was a cool customer.

My favourite thing about The Pizza Man has always been that he is this majestic horse...with a goofball name.
My favourite thing about The Pizza Man has always been that he is this majestic horse…with a goofball name.

Saturday he had become far more keyed up – he knew something was going on. Clearly The Pizza Man was ready, as he won his second career Grade I race in the Northern Dancer that afternoon.

The reason I was not exactly coherent when talking about The Pizza Man there had to do with the other Illinois-bred who I was so excited to see on Woodbine Mile Day: Yo Carm, who ran in the Ontario Derby.  He was always such a hard horse for me to figure out…but he had won the Bruce D on the Million undercard, in his only previous start over synthetic.  He looked like he was going in the right direction.  In the paddock before the race, I was snapping pictures, and a guy started talking to me about Amis Gizmo.  I told him Amis Gizmo was awesome, but that I was really down there to get a few pictures of Yo Carm.

Yo Carm in the paddock before the Ontario Derby.
Yo Carm in the paddock before the Ontario Derby.

I knew through most of the race that he was up against it: after all, Ami’s Gizmo was a star, and loose on the lead.  Yo Carm was tracking from midpack going into the far turn…then abruptly backed out of it.  Pulled up.  It looked horrible…and it was horrible.  His left front ankle broke, and it was bad enough that he had to be euthanized.

I couldn’t believe it then, and I still can’t.  After all, I had been following Yo Carm since the beginning of his career.  I got into a Twitter back-and-forth with Melissa when he ran at Keeneland last fall…which basically ended up a win-win for everyone, because it meant Twitter got spammed that afternoon with cute pictures of Yo Carm and cute pictures of Madtap.

And, more than anything, that’s how I’m going to remember Yo Carm: from all the good times.  From his adorable blaze.  From the fact that he won on turf, dirt, and synthetic.  From my time bragging on Twitter that he was going to beat Madtap in that allowance last fall, or that he was going to beat Texas Chrome in the Matt Winn (GIII).

Revisiting Faufiler

Though Faufiler is not based in Chicago, I still associate her with home, since she won the Modesty (GIII) on Million Preview Day this year.  I remember being struck by her classy appearance at Arlington, and she was just as composed at Woodbine.  Even though the course did not play to her strengths, thanks to the rain, she still mustered a third-place finish in the Canadian Stakes (GII).

Even at bathtime, Faufiler knows she is the centre of attention, and happily mugs for the camera.
Even at bath time, Faufiler knows she is the centre of attention, and happily mugs for the camera.

Woodbine’s Happy Place

The happiest barn at Woodbine is certainly the Michael DePaulo barn.  Josie, Melissa, Benji, and everyone else there were the friendliest, most outgoing group I’ve ever met in a racing stable.  Though my introduction to the barn was a bit interesting, thanks to Passion for Action’s boisterous attempt to relieve me of my left breast on Thursday morning (and the related razzing I caught when i returned on Friday morning!), I loved every moment I spent there.

I am Passion for Action. Don't mind my attempts to get bitey. My nose is too cute for you to resist.
I am Passion for Action. Don’t mind my attempts to get bitey. My nose is too cute for you to resist.
My sentimental favourite in the Gallant Bob this weekend, and also the likely betting favourite: Noholdingback Bear.
My sentimental favourite in the Gallant Bob this weekend, and also the likely betting favourite: Noholdingback Bear.
Noholdingback Bear certainly deserved some peppermints when all of us visited his stall, and Josie was happy to give him some.
Noholdingback Bear certainly deserved some peppermints when all of us visited his stall, and Josie was happy to give him some.
We claimed Sunny's Rainbow in the name of Gator Kitten, because he is cute and sassy enough to be a Gator pony.
We claimed Sunny’s Rainbow in the name of Gator Kitten, because he is cute and sassy enough to be a Gator pony.

Fortunately, we all got a heads-up from everyone in the DePaulo barn when Hot Kiss came out to train.  The “Hot” part was certainly right, as I had never seen a horse so feisty on the way to morning training.  They cleared the path between the barn and the training track…and then, this:

Which Breeze, Again?

Another highlight of my trip to Woodbine came after Friday’s races.  Doug took me out to his father’s barn after the races, and introduced me to all his horses.  I asked several times which horse was which, since four of them had “Breeze” in their names.

Gigantic Breeze has a curious face.
Gigantic Breeze has a curious face.
It's a Breeze thinks it's very important that you know how cute his nose is.
It’s a Breeze thinks it’s very important that you know how cute his nose is.

 

I am both a child of the nineties and obsessed with cute greys with pink noses, which means No Soup For You is pretty much the best.
I am both a child of the nineties and obsessed with cute greys with pink noses, which means No Soup For You is pretty much the best.

Babies, Babies, Lawnmowing Babies!

Even with Woodbine Mile day over, there was still more classy racing action on Sunday.  The card featured a pair of graded stakes for juvenile turf runners, each of which offered a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In berth.  By Sunday, it was vaguely beginning to dawn on me that I was about to leave, but I was finally starting to settle into Woodbine as well.  I knew my way around, I was starting to get an idea of the best way to go about things, and the last thing I wanted to do was leave.

I have long loved Conquest Stables, and not since Conquest Curlinate have I found a horse of theirs who I wanted to cheer for more than Conquest Farenheit: a half-brother to Liar's Smoker and Incensed.
I have long loved Conquest Stables, and not since Conquest Curlinate have I found a horse of theirs who I wanted to cheer for more than Conquest Farenheit: a half-brother to Liar’s Smoker and Incensed.
But, it was Good Samaritan (7) who beat Conquest Farenheit (6) to the wire in the Grade II Summer Stakes.
But, it was Good Samaritan (7) who beat Conquest Farenheit (6) to the wire in the Grade II Summer Stakes.
Lapinski, a maiden winner in August, represtend Arlington in the Natalma Stakes (GI).
Lapinski, a maiden winner in August, represtend Arlington in the Natalma Stakes (GI).
victorytovictorywire
It was Victory to Victory, however, who won the Natalma impressively, over Stormy Perfection and Beat the Benchmark.
Beat the Benchmark was third in the Natalma.
Beat the Benchmark was third in the Natalma.
Victory to Victory, ready for her stroll to the winners' circle after the Natalma.
Victory to Victory, ready for her stroll to the winners’ circle after the Natalma.

Epilogue

Sunday evening, shortly after Victory to Victory broke her maiden in the Natalma Stakes (GI), I hopped in a cab back to Toronto City Airport. As we cruised down Gardiner Expressway along the shore of Lake Ontario, I had a thought so rare in my life.  As someone who has taken so many wrong turns along the way, most of the time, I catch myself wondering what I messed up.

This time? I wondered what I had done to make things go so right just three years after being bitten by the racing bug.

Thank you, Woodbine, for having such a good weekend of racing and for opening your doors so wide.  I will remember last week for the rest of my life, and I can’t wait to come back.

Woodbine, as seen from the bleachers along the backstretch.
Woodbine, as seen from the bleachers along the backstretch.

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