By: Kim Izzo
Eventer Jessica Phoenix meets Woodbine Oaks favourite, Wonder Gadot.
Anyone who has seen two-time Olympic three-day-event rider Jessica Phoenix gallop one of her horses around a cross-country course would not be surprised to learn she is also a fan of horse racing. “It’s always exciting to be around that level of athlete,” she says of her visits to the track as a spectator. “Thoroughbreds have such amazing hearts. As an event rider, I appreciate having them underneath me because when the going gets tough they show real courage.” In fact, two of her top prospects for this year’s World Equestrian Games ‒ Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Bogue Sound‒ are off-the-track-thoroughbreds.
Canada’s eventing “Wonder Woman,” Jessica knows something of courage, and as the Canadian Triple Tiara series kicks off this weekend with the Woodbine Oaks, Phoenix has a special connection with the favourite, Wonder Gadot.
The Woodbine Oaks is a prestigious mile-and-1/8th race for Canadian-foaled three-year-old fillies that has a hefty purse of $500,000 and was first run in 1956. And lest you think the fillies can’t run as fast as the colts, last year’s winner, Holy Helena, went on to defeat the boys in the Queen’s Plate.
Red-hot favourite Wonder Gadot was bred by horse racing scion David Anderson of Ontario’s Anderson Farms. Anderson’s ties to the equestrian community extend beyond horse racing; he also owns Phoenix Performance Products and Tipperary, two companies that are renowned for their riding helmets and safety vests. Fittingly, the brand happens to sponsor Jessica Phoenix, who has a personal connection to their products. “Tipperary is a vest I’ve been using since I was 10 years old, and now my children wear both their helmets and vests when they ride,” says Phoenix. “So I have a long history and a lot of confidence in the products that they make.”
Wonder Gadot is now owned by Gary Barber, a movie producer and former chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He also produced the blockbuster movie Wonder Woman and subsequently named the filly after the film’s leading lady, Gal Gadot.
Thus far in her short career, the equine Gadot has her own proven star power. “She was always big and strong, with great balance, a very good-moving filly with lots of bone and presence,” says Anderson. “She really has pedigree to burn. Her sire, Medaglia d’Oro, is one of the hottest sires in the business.”
The stunning dark bay filly with the large star impressed race fans on May 4th at the historic Churchill Downs with her second-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks – arguably the greatest three-year-old filly race in North America. She lost by just a head, and that finish has cemented her as a top filly in the sport. “She has not had a break since last September, so it just shows not only her physical toughness, but her mental toughness. Her trainer has done a wonderful job keeping her sound and happy and just seems to be getting better and better.”
That trainer is Canadian legend Mark Casse, and according to assistant trainer Kathryn Sullivan, Wonder Godot has as much personality as she has speed. “She’s physically a big, beautiful horse ‒ head-turning,” she explains. “She enjoys affection and some good face rubs, but as race day gets closer she is on her toes both in the barn and on the track and you have to be careful!”
Of course as a breeder, Anderson has a special connection to both the filly and the Oaks. While he was part-owner of the 2016 Woodbine Oaks winner Neshama, a first-place finish as a breeder remains elusive. “I’ve never bred an Oaks winner; neither did my father,” he admits. Suffice to say it would be a very special moment should Anderson find himself in the winner’s circle if Wonder Godot takes top prize. “Growing up on the farm, every year we’d sit around the Christmas dinner table and discuss who we had in the barn as the filly for the Oaks, and in 40 years, we never bred an Oaks winner.”
The entire team behind Wonder Gadot are very proud she was named Canada’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 2017 and are hoping that if she runs well in the Oaks, she will compete against the colts in the Queen’s Plate. “She has everything you could want in a race horse; besides being incredibly talented, she has heart and determination,” adds Sullivan. “She tries with everything she has in every race.”
Come to Woodbine this Saturday and cheer on Wonder Gadot as she makes her brave bid in the Oaks. Jessica will be with her in spirit while she’s galloping fearlessly over the cross-country course at the Bromont CCI3* in Quebec this weekend. There is truly courage to spare in both of these Wonder Women.
Woodbines Oaks 101
Date: Saturday June 9, 2018
Meet & Greet: 12:15-12:45 meet the stars of the track! Come to the new “Player Zone” on the 2nd floor of the Grandstand before the first race to meet the jockeys.
Post time: 1:00 p.m.
Where: Woodbine Racetrack, 555 Rexdale Boulevard, Toronto, ON, M9W
Live Music 1:30PM – 4:30PM – Jeff Eager Band performs LIVE on the 2nd floor of the grandstand!
Self-parking is free – Valet parking available
Online Betting: hpibet.com