Who is Avoman? He is NOT a fictional superhero swooping from the skies, delivering avocados.
Rather, he’s a 3-year-old gelding destined to take his connections on the ride of a lifetime to the $1-million Queen’s Plate in three weeks. And he put his stamp on the plan by winning the $150,000 Plate Trial on Aug. 1.
The Plate Trial was only the second win of his career, but trainer Don MacRae had always had high hopes for the son of Old Forester (sire of Pink Lloyd). He was a $60,000 purchase at the 2019 Canadian premier yearling sale; his dam, Cosa Rara also produced the fleet filly Cawaja Beach, winner of three consecutive stakes races as a 2-year-old: the Victorian Queen, the Nandi and the Shady Well Stakes.
With all of this in his back pocket, Avoman rewarded his backers early when he won the Bull Page last year as a 2-year-old, off slow, but rallying to win the 7 ½ furlong test. He later finished fifth in the Frost King as a 2-year-old.
MacRae has never had a horse with this potential like this. No surprise that the screaming during the Plate Trial came from MacRae’s group. He owns the gelding with La Huerta Inc stable, which includes father and son Jim and Graeme Bruce.
So excited were they even before the Plate Trial that MacRae admitted he had to calm Jim down a tad: he was talking about ordering 40 tickets and a bus (a la Funny Cide in 2003).
“Let’s just get through today,” MacRae told him. “He’s what we’re in it for. That’s what we dream of, to walk into the infield and have these big days and maybe dream of the Plate.
“This is probably one of the greatest feelings in the world,” he said. “Except for my wife and baby….This is a dream come true for all of us and it’s exciting because it does lead us to the big dance.”
MacRae met Graeme Bruce when he played recreational hockey with him. They joked for a couple of years about owning a horse together. La Huerta imports tropical produce, including avocados. Hence the horse’s name. He carries it well.
Their dream seems impossible. The partnership has been around for only a few years. La Huarte has won only 12 races in 68 starts.
As in all of his other races, Avoman went to the back of the pack in the Plate Trial. Trouble is, nobody really seemed to want to go to the front. It was the smallest field ever for a Plate Trial, with only four entries, and for a while, it looked as if there would be only three. Last year, the Plate Trial had only six.
But four? Reasons? This is a strange season, having lost several months of racing and preparation because of COVID lockdowns. The route to the Plate is not normal this time. The race’s top prospect, Weyburn, has been knocking heads with the best 3-year-olds in the United States, most recently in the $600,000 Jim Dandy, won by Essential Quality. Weyburn ended only fourth, so perhaps he’ll make a trip to Toronto instead of the Travers on Aug. 28.
Because of dire interruptions to racing in recent years, breeders have taken a hit in Ontario. While the federal government provided relief for horsemen, and then owners, breeders were left out. In Ontario the foal crop has hovered at only 1,275 to 1,362 over the past five years, with only 681 registered in 2019.
So these four Plate Trail entrants were in no hurry to get to the finish line. Derzkii, a 3 to 1 shot from the Carlos Grant barn, vied for the lead with Truffle King on the outside to the first quarter in 25.35, with Avoman trailing and watching. Avoman fought with H.C. Holiday, owned by Ivan Dalos, for the role of the favourite. H.C. Holiday was the narrowest of favourites.
Kevin Attard trained two of the four: H.C. Holiday and Truffle King, the longest shot on the board at 4 to 1.
Spanish-born jockey Antonio Gallardo, who moved his tack to Woodbine, did his homework by watching replays. He could see that Avoman was a long-striding horse, with a big kick at the end. He knew there was little speed in the race.
In the beginning, Gallardo let Avoman “be strong,” but told him “Hey, you’re not going nowhere,” and he relaxed.
“I had to move a little early because there was no pace,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the horse in front worked a little bit.”
Avoman went three-wide to make his bid around the final turn, got his head in front past the quarter pole, duelled with Truffle King and won by three-quarters of a length.
Truffle King was clearly the best of the rest, but at the eighth pole, he ducked in, sending Derzkii bouncing against the fence. Derzkii’s rider, Emma-Jayne Wilson, claimed foul, and Truffle King was set back to last place, with H.C. Holiday moving up to second place and Derzkii to third.
The pace was so slow, there was no chance the colts could match the Woodbine Oaks’ clocking. The Oaks had attracted a far bigger field of 10, with speed horses in it.
So Avoman has become a superhero to his connections. A groom carried the flag of Jamaica into the winner’s circle. It draped across his shoulders like a cape.