Canadian Thoroughbred’s top rated Queen’s Plate contender HALO AGAIN returned to Woodbine on Saturday July 4 and powered to a steady win in the Queenston Stakes at 7 furlongs. The Ontario-bred by Speightstown – Halo’s Verse by Unbridled’s Song is owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds (of Gun Runner and others fame) and Willis Horton (of Will Take Charge fame) and trained by Steve Asmussen.

American connections aside, the colt was foaled at David Anderson’s Anderson Farms in St. Thomas and sold for $600,000 as a yearling.

The 65th Queenston is traditionally an early prep for the Plate, this year to be held on Sept. 12. and the late start date of the race, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is sure to help 3-year-olds who are taking a while to come around.

For now, however, Halo Again is the top of the group, as he was following his win in the Coronation Futurity last fall.

In the Queenston, Halo Again, one of just 2 stakes winners in the field,  pressed the pace three-wide through panels of :23.35 and :46.29 before eventually switching leads down the lane and drawing clear for the victory in 1:23.63.

Halo Again paid $4.70 to win as the 6-5 favourite. Golden Wave (Atreides – Tidal Surge, by Medaglia D’Oro), also bred by Anderson Farms and owned by Mickey Demers,  emerged along the rail with a short lead after the first quarter, stayed for second finishing 1-1/4 lengths behind, while Glorious Tribute (Congrats – Clare’s Bernadine by Action this Day) headed See Forever for third another three lengths back. Dotted Line, Tecumseh’s War, Deviant, Perfect Revenge and Ennis the Menace competed the order of finish.

The colt’s rider, Rafael Hernandez, rode circles around his jockey colony mates on Saturday, winning the Queenston, Grade 3 Eclipse and three other races. He talked about Halo Again following the race.  “The main thing was putting him in a good position,” said Hernandez, noting the colt has matured since his juvenile campaign. “It was clear all the way. We’ve got a long backstretch. So he just broke good, kept him comfortable, clear and he did the rest. Turning for home, he switched leads. He’s a big horse, he’s got a nice heart, good stride. He’s does everything good.”

The most recent winner of both the Queenston Stakes and the Queen’s Plate in the same year was Not Bourbon in 2008 for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, who also campaigned Norcliffe — the last horse to complete the rare Coronation Futurity and Queen’s Plate double in 1976.

Hernandez came right back in the next race to guide Gary Barber and Lou Tucci’s SKYWIRE, bred by Bill Graham, to upset the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes at 17 to 1.

The Mark Casse trainee, who was the beaten favourite in last year’s Queen’s Plate, earned his first win since taking the Wando Stakes in April 2019 for owners Gary Barber and Lou Tucci.

Racing near the back the entire way while tracking Avie’s Flatter along the rail, Skywire followed that foe wide turning for home in the 1-1/16-mile affair for older horses then hauled down the late leader in the stretch for the victory in 1:44.12.

The winner’s stablemate, Uncle Bull, had set fractions of :25.16, :48.32 and 1:12.17 to three-quarters with 3-5 favourite Mr Ritz pressing the pace and Avie’s Flatter stalking inside. Avie’s Flatter tipped out three-wide on the final turn and took command in the stretch before Skywire came flying late on the far outside to finish 1-1/4 lengths in front. Mr Ritz held third while Journeyman, Uncle Bull, Solidify and Cooler Mike rounded out the field.

But no doubt the most Exciting win for Hernandez had to be the last race, race 10, when he was legged up on first-time starter SHIRL’S SPEIGHT, a Charles Fipke-owned and bred colt trained by Roger Attfield. This handsome bay colt had been working in strong times last year but did not debut until Saturday with a host of big prep times on his page. Sent out as the 3 to 1 second choice, behind another beginner, Bellichick, trained by Josie Carroll, Shirl’s Speight quickly made the lead in the 7 furlong turf maiden race and drew o ff to win by 8 lengths under a hand ride in 1:19.97, just off the course record of 1:19.22 set by Silent Poet last year.

Shirl’s Speight is by Speightstown from Fipke’s Breeders’ Cup winner mare Perfect Shirl (Perfect Soul), whose three previous foals have been modest runners.

More from this weekend’s racing in the “Weekend Wrap” Monday at