Valedictory rivalry renewed closing day
Woodbine’s 133-day Thoroughbred meet will wrap up on Sunday, Dec. 10 with a mega 14-race program featuring the $125,000 Valedictory Stakes (Grade 3).
Reigning Valedictory Stakes champion Bangkok will be aiming to defend his title while 2015 winner and track record holder Melmich will be looking to reclaim his crown after being defeated by just a half-length in last year’s edition of the 1-3/4 mile marathon for older horses.
A multiple graded stakes winner at Woodbine this year, Melmich has been one of the stars of the meet for trainer Kevin Attard and owners Stephen Chesney & Cory Hoffman. The six-year-old millionaire son of Wilko won his first five starts of the season (including four stakes) and finished second last time out in an Autumn Stakes upset by Gigantic Breeze.
“Bangkok is obviously a formidable opponent,” said Attard of the Valedictory rematch. “I think this year’s field seems to be a very contentious group. You could make a case for a lot of the horses in the race that have a pretty strong chance of upsetting.”
One of those contenders is from Attard’s own stable as he will also send out Al and Bill Ulwelling’s Pumpkin Rumble, who has hit the board in three graded stakes this year and enters the Valedictory off a close runner-up finish to English Illusion in last month’s prep over 1-5/8 miles on the Tapeta.
“He’s coming into the race really well,” said Attard of the six-year-old English Channel gelding. “I’m quite happy and pleased with how he’s doing. He’s got a pretty good synthetic record and we’re hoping he’ll be coming with a firm showing.”
Attard holds the third position in Woodbine's trainer standings heading into the final weekend of racing, trailing only Mark Casse (93) and Norm McKnight (92), who remain in a close race for top honours. In addition to Melmich’s accomplishments, the four-year-old filly Starship Jubilee (co-owned by Attard and Soli Mehta) has provided the horseman with a few highlights this meet.
“Obviously, Melmich has been quite impressive going undefeated up until his last start. We were hoping that was going to stay intact, but he got beat by a good horse,” said Attard, who will be heading to Gulfstream for the winter months. “I think the filly Starship Jubilee was as well. She was a bit of a Cinderella story: claimed for $16,000 in January to winning two Grade 2s. I thought the race she dead heat with Rainha Da Bateria, in the Dance Smartly, was a very gusty and gritty performance on her part and that’s definitely a big highlight.”
Melmich winning the Durham Cup (Grade 3) on September 30 at Woodbine Racetrack, picture Michael Burns Photography
While Attard is hoping for a final stakes win with Melmich, Gail Wood & Dr. Ruth Barbour’s Bangkok could play the role of spoiler once again.
“Well, Melmich has had a great year and he’s a very, very good horse so we’ll have to see,” said Phil Gracey, trainer of Bangkok. “The advantage I have is my horse loves to go that far so we’ll have to see.
“It just depends on how the race sets up. I think we’re going to have a pretty good field this year. It’s a strategic race. You have to set up and be in the right spot. If he can get in behind somebody, he’ll relax so hopefully there’s a little speed in there of some sort that he can tuck in behind and then go from there.”
After starting his season on a winning note going 1-1/4 miles on the turf, Bangkok hit a stretch of bad racing luck hampering his performances. Bumped between foes in the Valedictory prep last time out, the six-year-old Street Hero gelding finished fifth.
“Since then he’s been great,” said Gracey. “He’s going into this race in good form. He’s acting very well and training well. I got on him this morning and he was almost impossible to gallop so he’s feeling good. He didn’t run much [this year], but those horses that run long don’t really get a ton of races. He’s coming into it very well. He’s a good old boy.”
Gracey is seeking his first stakes win of the year with Bangkok, whose two-year-old half-sister Worlds Your Oyster turned in a memorable maiden-breaking victory earlier this year winning her debut amidst the Pattison Canadian International Day downpour.
“It was almost like a hurricane and the winds were like 80 km an hour and the rain was going sideways. She’s been pretty nice,” said Gracey of the filly named for the lyrics in the song ‘One Night in Bangkok City’ after her owners took a trip to Thailand’s capital. “Then she ran back and was fifth in an open race and she was second the other day to another horse that had just finished second in a stakes so she looks like she might pick up where Bangkok left off.”
And the veteran horseman is hoping that will be in the winner’s circle on closing day before he heads on holidays for the winter.
Other contenders in the Valedictory Stakes include the aforementioned English Illusion, Ethical Funds, Kasseopia, Lead by Example, Leavem in Malibu, Major Production, Motivational, Portree, and Tesserson. First race post time on Sunday is set for 1 p.m., with the final stakes race of the season scheduled as the afternoon’s 10th race.
Woodbine will be offering large Pick 4 and Pick 5 guarantees on Saturday and Sunday afternoon to close out the season and will also be offering up 20-cent bet minimums on all Triactor, Superfecta, Pick 3 and Pick 4 pools. The early Pick 4 pool will be guaranteed at $100,000 and the early Pick 5 will be guaranteed at $50,000.
The Thoroughbred Jackpot Hi-5 has already been hit twice this month, but a mandatory payout will be in effect on Sunday as the meet concludes.
Live Thoroughbred racing will return to Woodbine next spring on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Harness racing will continue to run four days a week at Woodbine throughout the winter months and will return to its permanent home at Woodbine, Mohawk Park in April 2018 for racing all year-round.
For more information, check out Woodbine’s new website by visiting WoodbineRacetrack.com. Get in on the conversation and follow Woodbine on Twitter for the latest updates @WoodbineTB and use the official race day hashtag #BetWoodbine.
$125,000 Valedictory Stakes (Grade 3)
Post – Horse – Jockey – Trainer
1. Bangkok – Emma-Jayne Wilson – W. Phillip Gracey
2. Leavem in Malibu – Patrick Husbands – Mark Casse
3. Motivational – Luis Contreras – Jack Fisher
4. Ethical Funds – David Moran – George Billers
5. Tesseron – Omar Moreno – Harold Ladouceur
6. Kasseopia (GB) – Gary Boulanger – Mark Casse
7. Portree – Rafael Hernandez – Stuart Simon
8. Pumpkin Rumble – Jesse Campbell – Kevin Attard
9. Lead by Example – Slade Callaghan – Josie Carroll
10. English Illusion – Alan Garcia – Daniel Vella
11. Melmich – Eurico Rosa Da Silva – Kevin Attard
12. Major Production (S) – Steven Bahen – Stephen Philpott