The return of Woodbine Oaks and Queen’s Plate champion Holy Helena will be another highlight for racing fans on Pattison Canadian International day this weekend.
The Jimmy Jerkens-trained Ghostzapper filly headlines this Sunday’s $125,000 Ontario Derby (Grade 3) for three-year-olds, scheduled as the seventh race on the stellar stakes program to be run over 1-1/8 miles on the Tapeta.
The Ontario Derby will mark Holy Helena’s third start on Canadian soil and put her in the running for year-end Horse of the Year honours.
“That’s why we did it,” said the New York-based Jerkens, who trains the lightly-raced filly for the Stronach Stables. “Plus it didn’t look like there were many opportunities left for her here unless she was running against the older horses, which would have been pretty tough. We all got together about three weeks ago and decided let’s just get her back up to Canada and see what she can get done and see if she can get the honours.”
Holy Helena will be looking to rebound off an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Alabama in her last start on August 19 at Saratoga.
“It was disappointing, of course,” said Jerkens. “She might have been a little closer to the pace than we thought she should have been, but she got beat a long ways. She was going kind of quick between horses and I thought it was not like her style. She kind of backed out of there.”
Since then, Holy Helena has worked at Belmont Park multiple times and arrived at Woodbine for the Ontario Derby early enough to fit in another easy work over the Tapeta track on October 9.
“She’s a dream to train,” said Jerkens of the laidback filly he describes as a sweetheart. “We got a couple of nice works into her before she went up there and she was able to get a nice leisurely work the other day again, which was nine days between works. We didn’t think she needed something really rip-roaring because she had a couple of nice works before she left here – just something to get her back over the Tapeta track in a positive way.”
Jockey Luis Contreras rode Holy Helena in her prior Canadian starts and will be back aboard on Sunday.
Cool Catomine, another Canadian Triple Crown leg winner, is also looking for a bounce back performance in the Ontario Derby.
Following his 14-1 upset victory in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie on July 25, the John Ross-trained Spring At Last colt ended up 10th in the Breeders’ Stakes last time out in his turf debut going 1-1/2 miles on August 20 at Woodbine.
Ross believes that cutting back to 1-1/8 miles on the Woodbine main track in the Ontario Derby will benefit his contender.
“That day in particular, I don’t think he really was handling the turf as good as he did on the main track or in the Prince of Wales on the dirt,” said Ross, who also co-owns Cool Catomine with Jack of Hearts Racing. “He broke his maiden on the synthetic track [at Woodbine] so he doesn’t mind it too bad out here. Being back on the main track at Woodbine is going to be a better effort, no doubt, and the mile and an eighth is going to be right up his ally.”
With Contreras set to ride Holy Helena, Gary Boulanger will pick up the mount on Cool Catomine for the Derby.
“Luis would have ridden the horse but, of course, you can’t blame him for jumping on the Queen’s Plate winner and Oaks winner,” said Ross. “Gary Boulanger has been aboard in his workouts and one of his workouts I thought was very good. He worked three-quarters in :14 on the training track and then he had a nice little blowout the other day in :48. I’m pretty happy with the way he’s been training going into this.”
Cool Catomine will start just outside of Holy Helena in post 10, a position Ross is happy with, referencing his trainee’s off-the-pace racing style.
The field features another filly starting inside of those rivals from post two in the Mike Doyle-trained Grizzel, who is a Grade 3 stakes winner over Woodbine’s main track in the Selene this past May. More recently, the Irish-bred daughter of Kodiac has competed on the turf, finishing second in the Ontario Colleen (Grade 3) and fourth in the Canadian (Grade 2). David Moran retains the mount on Grizzel for owners Merriebelle Stable LLC and Anna Doyle.
Other contenders include Queen’s Plate runner-up Tiz a Slam and Plate Trial winner Guy Caballero. Undulated and Colonel Samsen, who recently joined the meet’s leading Mark Casse stable and were each supplemented for $2,500, plus fellow Woodbine newcomers Senior Investment and Gorgeous Kitten complete the line-up.
Here is the field for the Ontario Derby in post position order:
$125,000 Ontario Derby (Grade 3)
Post – Horse – Trainer – Jockey
1. Gorgeous Kitten – Jose Ortiz – Michael Maker 2. Grizzel – David Moran – Michael Doyle 3. Guy Caballero – Rafael Hernandez – Catherine Day Phillips 4. Senior Investment – Robby Albarado – Kenneth McPeek 5. Undulated – Patrick Husbands – Mark Casse 6. Tiz a Slam – Eurico Rosa da Silva – Roger Attfield 7. Colonel Samsen – Patrick Husbands – Mark Casse 8. Holy Helena – Luis Contreras – James Jerkens 9. Cool Catomine – Gary Boulanger – John Ross