Gradevole, a debut winner, wades into stakes action in Saturday’s $100,000 South Ocean at Woodbine.

Trained by Patrick Dixon for owner and breeder Colebrook Farms, the daughter of Danish Dynaformer-Congeniality rallied smartly to win her debut, a 5 ½-furlong Tapeta race on September 14.

After getting away last of five, Gradevole engaged her rivals three-wide at the three-furlongs pole and loomed a major threat turning for home. The bay was able to wear down the frontrunner to notch a one-length score in a time of 1:06.58.

“The thought was that she would go out and get some experience,” said Dixon, who recorded his first career stakes win on October 22 when Perfect Crime took the $100,000 Overskate. “I really liked the other filly, Working Holiday, that we had in there. Turning for home, I thought, ‘Wow… Gradevole might actually win this race.’ And that is what she did.”

Gradevole has had a steady work tab in the leadup to the South Ocean, a 6 ½-furlong Tapeta event for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies, including a pair of four-furlong breezes, :52.00 on October 8 and :49.60 on October 14.

What the filly lacks in size is offset by a strong-willed mindset, Dixon noted. ​

“She was broken late at the farm because she was small. When I watched her in the stall, she caught my eye because she was really upset because everyone else was being broken except for her. She used to rear up on the bars and put her two front feet on them, and in a standing position, would watch us ride the other horses. She used to get very upset. When we broke her, it happened very quickly. It was as though she had watched the other horses being ridden. I brought her to Woodbine from the farm a little bit later, but as soon as she got here, she wanted to keep up with everyone else. She is small, but she is very mighty. I remember thinking, ‘This little thing has grit.’ We were all impressed.” ​

Dixon was assistant trainer to Ashlee Brnjas (who passed away in 2021) when the latter trained Gradevole’s dam Congeniality.

The daughter of Signature Red-Nicola’s Nickers went 7-6-4 from 35 career starts.

“This filly Gradevole, she is gritty just like her mother. Congeniality would just grind out wins. If we were having a bad month, I would always feel better when Congeniality would run. She would always step up for us. She definitely passed along that grit and fight to her baby.”

“I used to tell other people in our barn to watch how upset she would get when we would ride the other horses, that she felt like that,” continued Nixon. “And now, here she is.”

Gradevole, an Italian term that translates to “pleasant,” will be ridden by Ryan Munger. Regular rider Rico Walcott is recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in a racing accident in late September.

Oswald Jackson is the groom.

Other contenders include Lady Wellington, a debut winner on September 23, Muskoka Stakes winner Hurricane Clair, and Victorian Queen Stakes runner-up Olivia Rose, cross-entered in the Frost King.

South Ocean, who went on to become a top broodmare, was a dual stakes winner, capturing the 1969 Yearling Sales Stakes and winning the premier race for fillies in 1970, the Canadian Oaks, defeating future Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Fanfreluche. Her two-year career race record consisted of 22 starts with 17 in the money finishes and purse earnings of $70,147.

Junior Hot Shot chases Frost King victory

Junior Hot Shot steps into the stakes spotlight for the first time in Saturday’s $100,000 Frost King at Woodbine.

The son of Souper Speedy-Executive Dreamer arrives at the 6 ½-furlong Tapeta event for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds off a dazzling debut on October 1 at Woodbine.

Under Justin Stein, aboard again for the Frost King, the John Ross trainee, sent on his way as the 9-5 choice in the 6 ½-furlong Tapeta maiden optional claiming race, hit the gate on the break but recovered quickly to dictate the pace.

Ahead by four lengths at the stretch call, Junior Hot Shot glided to the wire under a hand ride to record a 6 ½-length victory in a time of 1:15.81.

“I never get too cocky with any of my horses, but I knew for a long time that when this horse ran, he was going to be ready,” said Ross. “I put on my suit because I knew we were going to get our picture taken. I said to everyone, ‘I love this guy today.’ All the signs were there. When Justin came back to the winner’s circle, he said, ‘You’ve got yourself a racehorse on your hands.’ The way the horse opened up down the lane with that beautiful stride he has was great to watch.”

The dark bay, who was RNA at the 2022 Canadian Premier Yearling Sale for owner and breeder T and T Racing, impressed Ross from the outset.

“We took a lot of time with him this spring,” said Ross, who will also send out Garofoli, fresh off a maiden-breaking score on October 6. “He’s a gorgeous horse. I like the Souper Speedy ones quite a bit. To me, he is one of the finer Ontario-sired stallions around right now. So, when we got this horse, he was beautiful, but he needed time to grow into himself. When the growth plates in his knees closed, we started breezing him nice and easy. Each time we did, he impressed us and showed a lot of ability. But it was also his character that stood out. He does everything so cool. He is absolutely gorgeous, with the beautiful bone he has throughout his body, shoulder and back end.”

The colt has reminded Ross, who eclipsed the 600-win mark for his career this year, of a past star in his barn.

Go Greeley, a son of Horse Greeley-Orchids Halo, was a multiple stakes winner over a prosperous 29-race career.

“The build of Junior Hot Shot is just like Go Greeley, with that strong, sturdy build. I’m a conformation freak and these two are quite similar in look.”

Junior Hot Shot, noted Ross, has lived up to his name so far.

“We feel good about him. Things have gone very well with him. I couldn’t wait to enter him in the race. He worked in a minute flat (October 20) and that was breezing in company with a nice horse that I have. I feel confident in the way he looks and acts and how he is feeling. He’s the first one crying for his feed after a workout. You have the horses might be a little tired for a day or two after they race, but this guy, he has got some toughness inside of him.”

Oniel McIarty is the groom.

Other starters include No More Options, who broke his maiden in his most recent start, and Siesta Beach, a Michael Doyle trainee who has posted consecutive wins.

Frost King won stakes races in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta and competed at many of the leading tracks in the U.S., winning stakes at Keeneland and Chicago’s Sportsman’s Park and placing in major events in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Michigan. In 1981, at age 3, Frost King represented Canada in the inaugural running of the Japan Cup, finishing second. He was Canada’s champion 3-year-old in 1981 and the following year was named Horse of the Year, champion grass horse and older horse. During a 55-start career, he was never worse than third on 40 occasions. Of his 27 victories, 21 came in stakes races.

The South Ocean is scheduled as Race 10 on Saturday’s 11-race card. The Frost King goes as Race 8. First post time is set for 1:15 p.m. Fans can watch and wager on all the action through, bet365 and the Dark Horse Bets app.

$100,000 South Ocean (Race 10)

Post – Horse – Jockey – Trainer

1 – Lady Wellington – Rafael Hernandez – Dale Desruisseaux

2 – Vandoo – Luis Contreras – Kevin Attard

3 – Red Eleanor – Patrick Husbands – Angus Buntain

4 – Fourfiftyfour – Emma-Jayne Wilson – Barbara Minshall

5 – Olivia Rose – Kazushi Kimura – Mark Casse

6 – Hurricane Clair – Sahin Civaci – Martin Drexler

7 – Gradevole – Ryan Munger – Patrick Dixon

$100,000 Frost King (Race 8)

1 – Garofoli – Luis Contreras – John Ross

2 – Junior Hot Shot – Justin Stein – John Ross

3 – Hatmaker Gizmo – Patrick Husbands – Josie Carroll

4 – No More Options – Kazushi Kimura – Zeljko Krcmar

5 – Yacht Boy – Rafael Hernandez – Norm McKnight

6 – Olivia Rose – Eswan Flores – Mark Casse

7 – Siesta Beach – Sahin Civaci – Michael Doyle