What a year trainer Kevin Attard has had.
COVID halted his training plans in Florida. He caught the virus himself and was shuttered for a time, not feeling well at all. Woodbine was shuttered too. Bills probably piled up on the boot tray by the door. He has Queen’s Plate prospects, but couldn’t get them winter-raced. One of them, Stephen, winner of the Coronation Futurity, ran sixth against older horses in an allowance race at Woodbine on July 3, and hasn’t been seen since.
On Aug. 1, Attard finally found his sweet spot – in the winner’s circle, winning his first Woodbine Oaks with Munnyfor Ro, and his second Royal North Stakes with a stable stalwart, Amalfi Coast. Just like the Canadian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, his best runners were female on this day.
After some chatting with Munnyfor Ro’s owners (the Raroma Stables), Attard may have a live horse (err, filly) for the Queen’s Plate on Aug. 2. Her clocking for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks was 1:50.31, which was 2.53 seconds faster than it took Avoman to win the $150,000 Plate Trial earlier in the program.
Fillies have done well in the Plate: Dancethruthedawn won in 2011, following in the footsteps of her famous dam, Dance Smartly in 1991; Inglorious showed her heels to the boys in 2011, before spunky little Lexie Lou won the Plate in 2014, and Holy Helena won in 2017.
And who doesn’t remember Canadiana, Flaming Page, Jammed Lovely, and the big, fearsome La Lorgnette making their mark against males in Canada’s premier race?
Attard says Munnyfor Ro won’t mind the 1 ¼ mile distance of the Plate. But they will have to supplement the daughter of Munnings to the Plate at a cost of $25,000. Only two fillies, Curlin’s Catch and Vivid Vixen are currently eligible to the $1-million race out of the 45 that had made the most recent payment.
Owner Rajendra Maharajh bought the filly as a yearling at Keeneland for $65,000 U.S., encouraged by an Ocala friend Art Fisher. Maharajh named the filly for his son, Ro. She ran a couple of races, green, last year at Woodbine and didn’t hit the board, at least earning $2,656 for poor Ro.
This season has been a different story. Maharajh sent her to his U.S. trainer Brian Lynch. Over the winter, she broke her maiden at Keeneland, winning by a nose, hit the board in a bunch of starts at tracks such as Gulfstream and Churchill Downs, and ran in the Regret Stakes, named after the filly that dominated males in the 1915 Kentucky Derby.
She had one start back home at Woodbine three weeks ago, when she finished a determined second to U.S.-bred One Flash Drive in the Selene Stakes. That set her up perfectly, Attard said.
“We were expecting a good performance out of her,” he said. “She came up here this season in good shape from Brian Lynch and had a great campaign in the winter time. She ran a fabulous race in the Selene. I thought she’d come off that race forwardly enough to kind of really be competitive here today.” Lots of people agreed: they made her a 3 to 1 third choice behind undefeated Lorena and Curlin’s Catch, slightly favoured above her.
Jockey Justin Stein eased Munnyfor Ro to the back of the field early from the gate. “I was told the key was to have her settled,” he said afterward, using the same green whip he carried to win his other Oaks with Academic in 2015.
Stein figured the pace wouldn’t hold: the likely pacesetter Lorena hadn’t run further than six furlongs. “There was probably a possibility of them stopping,” he said. He didn’t want to be behind that. He and Munnyfor Ro sat behind a wall of horses, but in a spot “that we could tip out on the turn when it came time to ask her to run from the quarter pole home,” he said. “We had a dream trip. It worked out perfect.”
Lorena did, in fact, fade to eighth of 10 fillies. But quite impressive was Emmeline, ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson. Emmeline was relentless.
She forced the pace from the beginning, made a bid for the lead, got it on the far turn, and then when joined by Munnyfor Ro, fought back to the bitter end, finishing second. She was bred by the late Bill Graham, still exerting an influence on the breed with his clever pairings. Emmeline is a daughter of Violence, out of an Uncle Mo mare, and brought $18,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. She sported royal blue silks with golden eagles on the front and back, a tip to the fact that she is partly owned by the Realm Stables.
Il Malocchio finished third at odds of 13 to 1 after racing on the outside all the way under Patrick Husbands. She’s a homebred by Souper Speedy.
Youens, a daughter of American Pharaoh, finished fourth at odds of 85 to 1, trained by Angus Buntain of Raface McDougall fame. The filly had been bred by Sam-Son, and sold at the Keeneland yearling sales for $250,000 by William Werner, who has had horses with Roger Attfield. But she ended up in the hands of small owner Jaroslaw Kowalczyk and Buntain.
While Munnyfor Ro earned $300,000 for the win, Youens earned $25,000 for finishing fourth, a victory of sorts.
Curlin’s Catch was blocked at the head of the stretch and made a mild rally to finish fifth as the race favourite.
With the threat of rain and a cool, fitful wind chasing wild clouds across the sky, Attard was beaming. “These are the races you want to win growing up as a kid around here,” he said. “I’m just really happy and satisfied to get it done today.”
Attard has never won the Plate. He has come close.
But he had little time to celebrate. He rushed from the Oaks winner’s circle to saddle Amalfi’s Coast in the $196,000 Royal North Stakes, a race he won three years ago with Way to Versaille. While Munnyfor Ro had the outside post in the Oaks, Amalfi Coast had the inside slot for the Royal North, a 6 ½-furlong sprint on the sweeping E.P. Taylor turf course.
Stein was aboard for this one too, wearing different colours representing long-time owners Terra Racing Stable. Change of Control was the even-money favourite for trainer Michelle Lovell, racing for the first time in Canada. With winnings of $552,439, she was easily the richest filly in the race, with successes and placements in minor stakes races in the United States.
But Amalfi Coast didn’t care about any of that. She had won three consecutive stakes two years ago at Woodbine, including the Grade 2 Bessarabian, and she had won the Sweet Briar Too last year. She was third in her only start this year, the Whimsical shortly after Woodbine opened up again for racing.
Amalfi Coast is a daughter of Tapizar out of the prolific broodmare Include Katherine, whose daughter, Afleet Katherine, was second in the Woodbine Oaks last year.
“She’s a special one,” Attard said of Amalfi Coast. “Last year she ran into some issues and some bad luck and a little throat issue early on. I kind of mismanaged her maybe a little bit wrong. So this year we came up with a different game plan. She really appreciates that and she’s showing the horse that she is capable of being.”
Stein said the 5-year-old chestnut mare is “push-button” to ride. “She knows what she’s doing,” he said. “I’ve watched her race and got to be fortunate enough to ride her and steer her around a few times. When I pulled the trigger, she gives me everything she’s got. She came over ready and is a pleasure to be around.”
Stain settled Amalfi Coast in fifth on the rail as Sister Peacock took the lead, with 5 to 1 shot Jeanie B, a Mark Casse entry, in hot pursuit. Stein took his mare off the rail as the field rocketed into the turn, but had troubles finding a seam in front of him, first looking at a spot between Sister Peacock and Jeanie B., then as the latter drifted off the rail, he took advantage, steering Amalfi Coast to it.
She didn’t hesitate and won by a nose, just in front of Jeanie B. and a closing Change of Control. Lady Grace, who won the Royal North last year, finished fourth for Casse.
Amalfi Coast won in 1:09.15. Sister Peacock faded to sixth.