O'Brien Award winners Silver Label and Adare Castle, both driven by James MacDonald, headlined the second leg of the Ontario Graduate Series for Ontario-sired four-year-olds on a rainy Friday night (April 21) at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Silver Label overcame the outside post position to earn the first victory of her four-year-old campaign in the second leg of the series for trainer Nick Gallucci.
MacDonald pointed 4-5 favourite Silver Label to the front from post nine in the $25,000 pacing mares division with Intothemysticmoon (Phil Hudon) leaving into the two-hole over Raptors Won (Sylvain Filion) through a sizzling :26.1 opening quarter over the 'good' track. Silver Label raced on to the half in :55.3 and three-quarters in 1:23.4 with Raptors Won advancing in the final turn to take over second. The chase continued down the stretch with Intothemysticmoon locked and loaded before sliding up the pylons late to nab the runner-up honours three-quarters of a length behind 1:52 winner Silver Label. Raptors Won settled for third, with a gap back to the rest of the field.
"Nick just said he thought she was back to herself tonight and he said drive her like she's the best," said MacDonald of his aggressive race strategy. "Nick and his team are great to drive for. They don't tell you a whole lot, just try and get the job done."
After closing from off the pace to finish fourth by less than a length in her season's debut during the opening round of the series last week, Silver Label had the backing of the betting public in spite of her poor post draw and returned $3.70 to win.
"I've driven her enough that I knew she's got the gate speed [to leave from post nine]. She's got any kind of speed you want so I was just trying to get her in a good spot to win. The first quarter was a little spicy, but she's so smart she backed down no problem and got a little breather then that was it."
Millar Farms' homebred mare, who won six races and banked nearly $500,000 during her three-year-old season, improved her lifetime record to 13-5-0 in 24 starts. The daughter of Bettors Delight out of Hidden Gem has earned $854,364 in her career.
Adare Castle later rebuffed rival Esplosione to repeat in the trotting division of the series for trainer and co-owner Mark Etsell.
Adare Castle left for the lead from post seven into a :27.3 opening panel for MacDonald before stealing a second-quarter breather to the half in :58.3. As the 3-5 favourite field approached the midway mark, Esplosione (Sylvain Filion) launched his attack from fifth and matched strides with the leading lady to three-quarters in 1:27.1. Those two took off in a two-horse race turning for home with Adare Castle responding by trotting off by nearly two lengths down the lane to win in 1:55 flat. Esplosione settled for second for the second week in a row while Mischevious Rose (Louis-Phillippe Roy) won the battle for the minor spoils, edging out Safe Conduct (Chris Christoforou) in a show photo.
"She's just a professional," said MacDonald after the race. "You put her on the gate and she's going to do her business. Sun, rain, mud, fast, it don't matter. She's a real champion and she shows up to play every week.
"She's a great horse, but she doesn't do more than she has to and she was just kind of moping around up there and then when Sylvain come, she kind of let him get to her and then her competitive instinct took over and she just took off," he said of Adare Castle's third quarter challenger. "She's a fun ride to have, I'm a lucky guy to drive her and hopefully she keeps rolling.
After winning seven of 13 races and $668,654 as a sophomore, Adare Castle is now two-for-two to start her four-year-old season in the series and she paid $3.20 to win.
Etsell trains and co-owns the Muscle Mass-Pacific Edge mare, a winner of 16 races lifetime and more than $1.1 million from 24 starts, with Robert Newton, Graham Hopkins and Peter Porter.
Friday's card also featured a $32,000 Fillies & Mares Preferred 2 Handicap Pace won by favourite Need To Breathe in a season's best 1:52 performance for Team Cullen -- trainer Jodie Cullen and her son, driver Travis.
After getting away fourth from the outside post nine, Need To Breathe marched to the top at the :56.1 half-mile mark and was up by two lengths at the next marker in 1:24.3 before doubling that margin down the stretch. Parisian Blue Chip (Bob McClure) and Shes Got It All (Sylvain Filion) rounded out the top three finishers.
A winner of this class most recently on March 17, the four-year-old Riggins-Christie Hanover mare had put together a string of three second-place finishes since. She paid $4.30 to win this time out.
The Indiana Sire Stakes graduate, who hasn't missed the board in a dozen starts this year, earned her fifth victory and lifted her seasonal earnings to $127,950 -- tops in Canada as of press time -- for owners Paul Sanders, A1stable and Blair Kidd.
To view Friday's harness racing results, click the following link: Friday Results - Woodbine Mohawk Park