John Ross watched Aheadbyacentury come close in the first two jewels of the OLG Canadian Triple Crown.
With his horse’s dominant rival skipping the Breeders’ Stakes, the veteran trainer is hoping their time as bridesmaids is finally up.
After finishing second to standout filly Wonder Gadot in both the Queen’s Plate and the Prince of Wales Stakes, Aheadbyacentury is the early 5/2 favourite for Saturday’s $400,000 gallop over 1 1/2 miles on Woodbine Racetrack’s turf course.
“He keeps getting better and better,” Ross said. “I like the way we’re going.”
The consistent Aheadbyacentury, with two seconds and two thirds in five starts in 2018, has $513,800 in career earnings, including $311,250 this year thanks in large part to his Triple Crown performances.
A colt named after the Tragically Hip song that closed the iconic Canadian band’s final concert in 2016, the three-year-old son of Midnight Lute has a pair of wins, two second-place finishes and three third-place showings in nine-career races.
“He’s the only horse that’s been in all three legs of this Triple Crown,” said Ross, who co-owns Aheadbyacentury with Jack of Hearts Racing. ”A lot of horses don’t go the whole way like this.”
Instead of trying to secure the Breeders’ for the first Canadian Triple Crown since 2003 when Wando accomplished the feat, Wonder Gadot is instead preparing to run in the more lucrative Grade 1 Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 25 against a full field of male horses.
Aheadbyacentury and jockey Luis Contreras finished 4 3/4 lengths behind Wonder Gadot in the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate on Woodbine’s synthetic track on June 30. The pair were then beaten by 5 3/4 lengths in muddy conditions on dirt at the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales in Fort Erie, Ont., on July 24.
Ross said he understands the decision not to race Wonder Gadot in the 128th running of the Breeders’ Stakes, but would have welcomed getting another crack at the filly that has five victories in 13 career starts for more than $1.4 million in earnings.
“We would have accepted the challenge,” he said. ”The case is she went somewhere else.”
While the distance of the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Stakes — the longest of the three Triple Crown races — isn’t a concern for Ross, the fact Aheadbyacentury has never run on grass in competition leaves a big unknown heading into Saturday.
“There’s just some things in the back of your mind,” the trainer said. ”You hope that he likes turf.
“It’s always a concern when you’re switching courses.”
Hot Cash, a filly trained by Michael Doyle, sits as the early second pick for Saturday at 7/2, followed by Graham Motion’s Say the Word (3/1) and Mark Casse’s Neepawa (6/1).
A newcomer to the Triple Crown, Hot Cash won the Maiden Special Weight at Woodbine over 1 1/16 miles on July 27, Say the Word was sixth in the Queen’s Plate, and Neepawa finished third in the 1 1/8-mile Toronto Cup three weeks ago.
Casse, who also trains Wonder Gadot, was bullish on Neepawa heading into the Queen’s Plate as a 15/1 longshot before having to settle for 10th.
“He ran off early on,” said Casse, who didn’t enter the colt in the Prince of Wales. ”He wasn’t supposed to be that close to the pace and I think the pace was too hot. It took a toll on him.”
Neepawa has run six times this year, wracking up a win and two third-place finishes for $59,482 in earnings.
The son of Scat Daddy has been in the money in three of his seven starts on turf, including his only career victory back in January. All told, Neepawa has run 10 career races, grabbing that win, a second and three third-place finishes for $117,614 in earnings.
“He’s a horse that one of these days we’re going to get lucky with,” Casse. “We’ll need him to relax and if we get him to do that he won’t have a problem.”
It’s a feeling Ross shares when it comes to Aheadbyacentury — a horse that he feels, quite frankly, is due.
“He has the temperament,” he said. ”He’s a cool horse and he’s a tough horse. He takes everything well.
“We’re very fortunate.”
The field, with post, horse, jockey and odds, includes: 1) Ginger Sky (Emma-Jayne Wilson, 12/1); 2) Eskiminzin (Sheena Ryan, 20/1); 3) Absolution (Alan Garcia, 20/1); 4) Real Dude (Gary Boulanger, 8/1); 5) Aheadbyacentury (Luis Contreras, 5/2); 6) Say the Word (Rafael Hernandez, 3/1); 7) Neepawa (Jerome Lermyte, 6/1); 8) Flight Deck (David Moran, 10/1); 9) Hot Cash (Eurico Rosa da Silva, 7/2).
— With files from Canadian Press reporter Dan Ralph
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press