It’s the Canada Day Racing Festival Saturday June 29 at Woodbine with five graded stakes races including the prestigious Highlander Stakes (G2), this year sponsored by bet365. The six-furlong turf sprint is worth $200,000 and since its inception in 1954 has been won by some of the great champions in Canadian racing such as Canadiana, Anitas Son, E Day, Play the King, Wake at Noon and Soaring Free. (Note: the race was a main track event until 2004).

This year’s field has nine entrants and it is race 7, beginning the ‘All Stakes’ Late Pick 4 wager.

Historical Hints for Highlander

Seven times this century the Highlander has been won by a horse invading from the United States. There simply are not a lot of rich turf sprint races in North America and the $200,000 Highlander often lures out-of-towners for that reason.

Since the rails (or ‘dogs’) are not used for major stakes races on the E.P. Taylor turf course, the stretch runners in the field have a good chance because of the long run from the turn to the finish. In fact, only two of the last 10 winners raced on or near the pace while the others came from at least five lengths behind in the early stages.

Recent winners of the Highlander have come into the race with a few previous outings under their girth, often peaking in the Grade 2. In last year’s edition, the Mark Casse-trained Lucky Score had just one prep race before winning the Highlander at 14-to-1, defeating invader Oceanic who was 9-to-1 and making his fourth start of the season. Oceanic (#3) is in this year’s Highlander.

Here Comes the Rain Again

Southern Ontario has had more than its share of rain heading into summer and the forecast for Saturday is for a lot more. As more than one esteemed trainer has said over the years, “soft turf is the great equalizer” in a horse race. Be sure to scan each entrant’s record to see if he has raced over an ‘off’ turf; you may have to dig a bit deeper on to see further back in a horse’s career.

Some horses simply do not care for wet grass and often, their trainer will scratch them anyway.

Entrants for this year’s Highlander who have won or fared well on yielding or soft turf include Oceanic, (#6) Filo di Arianna (Brz) and (#9) Witty. A couple of the entrants have not raced over soft turf.

Race Shape

With a 100 percent chance of rain throughout Saturday, the turf course might be quite soft, making tough to guess who might handle it well enough to show speed. There appears to be just a few front runners, (#1) Silent Reserve, Filo di Arianna and (#8) Step Forward. The others are stalkers or closers.

Go With the Champion

Filo di Arianna was the 2023 Champion Turf Male in Canada and he was also a champion in his homeland of Brazil. Lightly raced for an eight-year-old, the Mark Casse-trained gelding seeks his first win since the summer of 2022. But he returns to his favourite track as he is three-for-three on the grass at Woodbine and in his last two races at Churchill Downs and Saratoga, he was chasing arguably the best turf sprinter in the world, Cogburn.

In the June 8 Jaipur Stakes (G1), Filo di Arianna had the near-impossible 11 post in a 12-horse field, raced wide, and then was shuffled back in traffic in the stretch run. He landed just over six lengths back of Cogburn. He was only 2 1/2 lengths behind that rival in his previous race, the Turf Sprint (G2) at Churchill.

Filo di Arianna reportedly won on soft turf in his native Brazil before he came to North America. Kazushi Kimura gets the ride for Casse.

Playing the Highlander

Filo di Arianna is back on Lasix and as long as he handles the turf condition, he should be able to win the Highlander. The visiting gelding (#9) Witty comes off a super performance when he rallied wide to the lead in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico last month and the Pimlico course was getting soaked by rain.

My bet is $10 to win in #6, Filo di Arriana with a $2 exactor box 3, 6, 7. = $10 + $12.00

Head on over to and place your bets on the Canada Day Festival card of racing – good luck!