Grass racing is back at Woodbine and Fort Erie racetracks and with it, bigger fields and wild finishes. RUN FOR THE HILLS won the first grass race (E.P. Taylor course) at Woodbine for the 2023 season when she sped clear in the stretch of a 6 1/2 furlong allowance/optional claiming race under Kazushi Kimura on Saturday. The Gary Barber filly, trained by Mark Casse, was 4-to-5 and coming off a big win in her grass debut at Gulfstream in March. Her time for the distance was a sizzling 1:14.74.
The rails were out in Lane 3 for the first day of turf which was held on a bright and warm May day. Temperatures are expected to soar in Ontario next week. Two more grass races on the Taylor course on May 27, yes, the very day that the great NORTHERN DANCER was born in 1961.
The well-bred GOOGLY EYES (Declaration of War – Louve Royale (Ire), by Pentre Celebre), bred 4×4 to Northern Dancer, was well prepared to win a $40,000 claiming/optional turf dash, also at 6 1/2 furlongs, by trainer James Smith for owner Richard Lister. Googly Eyes was beautifully ridden by jockey RYAN MUNGER, who scored a triple on the day.
The third turf race on the 9-race card was won impressively by PERHAPS TONIGHT (Ire), who breezed by rivals in a $32,000 claiming/optional race at 1 1/16 miles for TEC Racing and trainer Martin Drexler. Perhaps Tonight, now 5-for-18, had won her last two straight on the Gulfstream grass and was claimed on Saturday by trainer Bill Tharrenos. Eswan Flores rode the winner.
Munger stats: From 17 rides since he landed in Ontario from South Africa, Ryan Munger has won six races, almost a 36% win rate.
A winner on Thursday, Munger’s triple on Saturday began with Tucci Holdings’s HEAR ME KNOCKING, a Bahaman Squall filly bred by Michaela and Karly Kemp, trained by Sid Attard. Hear Me Knocking won the $7,000 maiden claiming race with her ears pricked.
Munger then guided the speedy QUIET MADDELENA (Dominus – Cajun Diva, by Touch Gold) to victory in race 5 for $7,500 claiming for owners John Lennox and Centenntial Farms Inc. This filly was the fifth winner for trainer Ravendra Raghunath at the meeting.
One of the fastest Tapeta races of the day – on a surface that was quite slow – was race 1 which was dominated by 9-year-old MALIBU SECRET, trained by Drexler for Bruno Schickedanz. The former Sam-Son Farm runner, who has been well known for his win-shy tendencies, flew to a 7-length win in 1:10.93 in the $10,000 claiming dash. The son of Malibu Moon now has five wins in 48 races, 22 seconds and thirds, and over $350,000 in earnings. DECLAN CARROLL, who is having a great meet at Woodbine, rode Malibu Secret.
Jockey JAMES CHAU did not ride Lonhro’s Gizmo in race 9 for Hall of Fame trainer Josie Carroll, as a late change was made to apprentice Sophia Vives. It is an unfortunate story which ended a roller coaster week for the young rider. Chau, who gallops for Carroll and has ridden in Saint Lucia and rode in the 2020 Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup, began his North American riding career last spring at Hastings Park. After 11 starts, Chau, riding as a five-pound apprentice, came to Woodbine last summer and rode one race, but he was disqualified aboard Solis (trained by Saul McHugh) and issued a 20-day suspension by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario stewards.
This spring he rode at Woodbine on May 13 and was fifth on Sandy Grace before he guided Yawen Wu’s MIMI’S HOLIDAY to victory in the first race of the 2023 Fort Erie season last week.
On the Woodbine Senior Steward’s Report on Thursday, May 25, one day after Chau celebrated his first win at the Carroll barn (which presented him with a cake), this note appeared:
Meeting with James Chau, Trainer Saul McHugh and JBAC executive manager Daren Gomez. We advised that according to Mr. Chau Apprentice Cerificate [sic] issued by the British Columbia Racing Commission in October 2019, has expired as of October 2022. Certificates are entered into for a period of three years at which time the Apprentice allowance expires. Mr. Chau is now considered a journeyman.
The following day a ruling came out that Mimi’s Holiday, trained by Desmond Maynard, had been disqualified from his victory and placed last. Thus, owner Yu and Maynard lost the purse money. The horse was also claimed from the race for $4,000 by trainer Josh Robillard. There has been no report about whether the claim has since been voided.
Sandy Grace also lost her purse money from her Woodbine race.
A tough situation for Chau, the owners and trainers, as well as the betting public.