Mrs. Orpen would have loved it.
It all sounded so dramatic: a horse called Master Spy came out of the mists at Woodbine Racetrack and won the 84th running of the Cup and Saucer Stakes, a dark streak that could not be caught.
The Cup and Saucer was Mrs. Orpen’s race, all those years ago, when it first was held. Her husband Abe Orpen was an Irish immigrant who created a handful of tracks like Dufferin Park, Thorncliffe Park, Long Branch Park. He even was a partner in Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ont., where Man O’War won his final race, defeating Triple Crown winner Sir Barton.
Orpen had outbid several other tracks for that match race, and offered up a $5,000 Cup, now the trophy for the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
After Orpen died at 83 in 1937, a new race was born: Mrs. Orpen’s Cup and Saucer Stakes. That’s exactly what it was called. Isabella Orpen had been married to Abe for 63 years, and this time, she fashioned her own cup – and saucer.
It’s now just called the Cup and Saucer Stakes, one of only two races that has survived long after the Orpen era. The other was the Canadian International, not on offer this year because of COVID-19.
The spirit of Mrs. Orpen’s race lives on in that dainty gold cup that comes out once a year, handled with kid gloves, pushed into jockey Patrick Husband’s hands for a few minutes for a photo op. And why not? When Husbands rode Master Spy across the finish wire, winner by a widening 3 ¼ lengths, he was celebrating his sixth Cup and Saucer win. He is more familiar with Mrs. Open’s trophy than most.
He had lost count of his wins. We are reminding him.
Master Spy came from the barn of Mark Casse, on a roll in recent weeks with more than 64 wins, more than double the number of his closest competitor at Woodbine. He cleverly buys Ontario-breds for his U.S. owners, this time Tracy Farmer, a Kentuckian who bred and owned 2019 Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston.
Casse, on behalf of Farmer, paid $72,000 for Master Spy, a son of top Canadian sire Silent Name, as a yearling in Kentucky. The colt was bred by Karen and Bernard McCormack, former general manager of Windfields Farm who has fashioned a successful bloodstock business and broodmare band that spells success. Master Spy’s dam, Smart Catomine, also produced 2017 Prince of Wales Stakes winner Cool Catomine and Wild Catomine, whose claim to fame is having defeated 2014 Canadian Horse of the Year Lexie Lou in the Fury Stakes.
Sweet Catomine is also the grand dam of Proven Strategies, winner of the Toronto Cup last week at Woodbine. Casse trains him, too.
And don’t forget, the McCormacks bred Queen’s Plate winner Sir Dudley Diggs.
Off a second-place finish in the Victoria Stakes in early August, and a smart win in a maiden race a month ago, Master Spy was made the 5 to 2 favourite over the grey Credit River, who won the Ontario Racing Stakes in his first start at odds of 41 to 1. In early betting, Credit River was the 8 to 5 favourite, but then settled at 7 to 2. Credit River ended up sixth after pressing Master Spy from the rail during a slow early pace.
Credit River and Giant Waters traded bumps at the start, and although he was shuffled back, the hard-luck Giant Waters rallied to be third.
Master Spy (known as Felix to some) broke his maiden in his previous start by going to the lead, and Husbands sent him to the lead again this time. It worked.
Two previous races on the turf were won by come-from-behind efforts. “I was telling myself, I hope the [other] riders stick with that plan and I can get an easy lead,” Husbands said. He did. He plodded 24 seconds to the quarter, 48.11 to the half and 1:12.12 at the three-quarters on turf rated firm.
Master Spy was relaxed from the start, and Husbands sees good things to come for the colt, no matter the surface. The Coronation Futurity, the other major stakes for 2-year-olds, is over the Tapeta (synthetic dirt) course on Nov. 1.
Threefiftyseven, with three starts under his belt, including a win last time out, was never far back, and challenged in the stretch, but Master Spy just pulled away to win the 1 1/16th mile race in 1:42.67.
Husbands had won three of his Cup and Saucers with Casse, who has won a total of five. Drizzle rolled in part-way through the day, greying the horizon, but the sun broke through before the Cup and Saucer on the turf course.
Because COVID-19 numbers had trended upwards in the week leading to the Cup and Saucer, Woodbine tightened its rules, cancelling any dining in-house as well as owners congregating on the track apron. Silent Woodbine became more silent.
But Mrs. Orpen’s cup and the saucer twinkled in the afternoon light.