Being a world-class breeding prodigy apparently does not guarantee respect in the sport of horse racing and one can look no farther than Charles Fipke’s Roger Attfield-trained Shirl’s Speight, a son of two Breeders’ Cup champions (2004 Sprint winner Speightstown and 2011 Filly & Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl), to find an example.
A five-time winner from 18 starts, the bay 6-year-old hordse seeks to do one better than his runner-up effort in last year’s FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), a three-quarter-length loss at odds of 55-1. He shipped to California on Monday from Kentucky after vanning from Toronto to Lexington.
“He shipped very well, he’s a bit fresh and is training really well here,” Attfield said. “Any experience, they learn from it and he handled this well, just like he handled the trips across the world unbelievably well. He’s pretty level-headed, this horse.”
The 2022 World Championships were not the first time the talented charge was underestimated. Earlier in the 2022 season, he was assigned 30-1 morning line odds in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) and won the race by a nose at 9-1.
This year, he went on a trek around the world, stopping in Japan for the February Stakes (G1) and a try on dirt that went awry, before heading to arguably the world’s toughest 9-furlong turf race, the $5 million Dubai Turf (G1) at Meydan, where he finished a game fourth (of 14), beaten just 3 lengths at dismissive international market odds of 66-1. For context, he finished a neck ahead of 3-1 favorite Serifos (JPN), nearly caught 5-1 Nations Pride (IRE) and chased home 1-2 finishers Lord North (IRE) (5-1) and Danon Beluga (JPN) (8-1). Also in the field were 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order of Australia (IRE) (11 th ) and Master of The Seas (IRE) (13th).
“He ran a really good race in Dubai,” Attfield said. “We had to give him two months rest before we could ship him to Canada and I made a little mistake there because I probably should have put him in training at Keeneland or something, but he was at Mr. Fipke’s farm and got too fat out in the paddock with his grandfather, Perfect Soul, who also ran in the Mile (eighth the 2003).
“That cost me a little bit with him and you could see that in his comeback race, the King Edward (G2) at Woodbine, when I couldn’t have him as good as I would have liked. Then we took him to the Woodbine Mile (G1), knowing he wasn’t 100 percent, but that the race would be very advantageous to getting him to the Breeders’ Cup Mile at his best. He also didn’t get a good trip, especially when he got shaved off at the top by Mr. (William) Buick and lost a few lengths.
Johnny (Velazquez) was actually upset with his ride there and he knew what he sitting on that day and took this call again because of it.
“In general, when you look at it on paper, it seems like he might be a better two-turn horse than one-turn horse, but I’m not sure that’s true,” he continued. “It could be true, but he also ran a big race in Dubai, where he didn’t get the best of trips either and probably should have been third. In most of his races, he’s never quite had a clean run for the final quarter-mile, except for the Maker’s Mark. And this horse has a huge final quarter-mile kick. That’s his weapon.”
While Perfect Shirl was Attfield’s lone Breeders’ Cup winner from 18 starts, he also finished second three times and third twice, good for nearly $2.7 million in earnings. A master at getting his horses right on the right day, he pays little attention to detractors, remaining as level-headed as his horse, who again looks ready to take home a big slice of the Mile pie.
“I find it interesting that he’s the (30-1 morning line) odds he is,” Attfield concluded. “To me, it didn’t make much sense, but I don’t worry about it too much. I just make sure he gets there at his best. That said, I’m not super-happy about the 1-hole, but I far prefer that to the 14, outside, where I had Perfect Soul. Johnny has ridden so many great races in his life and for me, so I trust he will make the right moves. What I’d really like to see him do is to be able to come running with a quarter-mile, straight run and with nothing getting in his way.”
Madaket Stables, SF Racing and X-Men Racing’s Ontario-bred Moira is one of two North American-bred horses entered in Saturday’s $2 million Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). She rallied from last-of-12 to finish fifth in this event last year at Keeneland.
Trainer Kevin Attard said Moira, who is named after the character Moira Rose played by Catherine O’Hara on the TV series Schitt’s Creek, has settled in well at Santa Anita where she has trained forwardly in the care of her regular exercise rider Korina McLean.
“She had a nice, easy gallop about a mile and a quarter this morning and then went to the paddock for a little bit of a walk and a look around,” Attard said. “She’s a little bit of a quirky horse, so just to see her ship as well as she has is a good sign.
“She’s with people she’s familiar with and that gives her a sense of home,” added Attard, whose son, Josh, is a key member of the Moira team. “The team spends a lot of time with these horses and gets to know them really well, and know the ins and out of them. It always helps to have familiar faces.”
The 4-year-old Ghostzapper bay enjoyed a tremendous sophomore season, winning three stakes in five starts led by scores in the Woodbine Oaks and a memorable 7-length romp over the boys in the $1 million Queen’s Plate to secure honors as Canada’s Champion 3-Year-Old Filly and Horse of the Year.
She made her turf debut last October against older company in Woodbine’s 10-furlong E.P. Taylor (G1) in which she angled toward the rail at the three-sixteenths pole in search of racing room – forcing Lemista (IRE) to check – and then surged powerfully up the rail to finish second, a neck behind the victorious Rougir (FR). A stewards’ inquiry and objection saw Moira disqualified and placed eighth behind Lemista.
Moira has made four of five starts on the Woodbine turf this year, garnering a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure while making the grade in the 9-furlong Grade 2 Canadian on Sept. 9. She enters from a good effort in the E. P. Taylor, closing from seventh to finish third behind returning rivals Fev Rover (IRE) and With The Moonlight (IRE) in a race contested over good going.
Attard said the expected firm footing for Saturday’s 10-furlong test should benefit Moira, who exits post 4 under Flavien Prat.
“In her last race back home we had quite a bit of rain and the turf had a bit of give, especially this time of year when it cools off and doesn’t dry out as quick,” Attard said. “So, coming out here on the firm going was a big enticement.”
Attard said if Moira can run back to her effort in the Canadian, she should give a strong account of herself in a field that features fillies foaled in Britain, Ireland, France, Argentina and Japan.
“This is best on best. You work all year round to get to this point and we feel very fortunate to have a filly we think is competitive with them,” Attard said. “Hopefully, she comes up with her ‘A’ game and we can bring one home for the Canadian team. There’s a lot on her back in that sense and maybe, if she can win this race, she can show that the North American fillies are just as good as those Euros.”
Attard said he is hopeful Prat, who hops aboard for the first time, can work out a nice one-run trip for Moira.
“Off-the-pace with an outside trip is what she wants. In this race, it seems like it’s shaping up with quite a bit of speed,” Attard said. “It’s hard sometimes to gauge the Euros, but a few of them look like they want to be forwardly placed, so hopefully that transpires and we can get a good trip and come with a run.”
Moira, listed at 12-1 on the morning line, was purchased for $150,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She is out of the graded stakes-placed Unbridled’s Song mare Devine Aida.