She may not be big and brawny, but as anyone who has spent some time around her, Academic does not like to be pushed around.
So when jockey Justin Stein simply let the filly do what she wanted to do in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks on June 15 — zip straight to the lead — it led to one of the biggest upsets in the history of the race as the Bear Stables’ filly won at 66-1.
In addition, the 3-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes—Awesome Lass by Awesome Again set a track record for 1 1/8 miles on the Polytrack of 1:48.86.
Left in her wake was the heavily-favoured London Tower, owned by Steve Owens, and Woodford Thoroughbreds’ Season Ticket, trained by Mark Casse.
Trainer Reade Baker, who has conditioned the horses of Danny Dion’s Bear Stables since the Albertan entered the business almost 20 years ago, said the filly’s demeanor helped her win the prestigious race.
“She’s small, but she’s tough,” said Baker.
Academic’s breeder Dr. John Brown would agree as the owner of Spring Farm in Lucan, ON remembers a youngster who was “difficult.”
“When she was a yearling and the girls on my staff were starting to brush and clean the feet of all the babies, she would have nothing of it. She would not stand still and she would bang her head around until she hurt herself.”
Brown could not even sell the filly as a yearling for the price he wanted as the market was collapsing around the announcement that the Slots at Racetracks Program was ending. He bought her back for $20,000 from the CTHS Woodbine sale and sent her to Florida with trainer Ricky Griffith.
“She was not a very co-operative filly to break (to the saddle),” Griffith said. “But what I did notice is that for a smallish horse, she had a very big way of moving.”
Dion and Baker saw the filly at the April Ocala Two-Year-Olds in Training sale in 2014 and paid $54,000 (U.S. funds), just over Brown’s reserve and took the already-named filly home.
Baker credits Vera Simpson and Mike Dube of Curraghmore Farm in Waterdown, ON, for a lot of the filly’s success. The couple wintered the filly following a winless 2-year-old campaign. Simpson let the filly grow and mature but also treated her on the vibrating, circulation machine TheraPlate on a daily basis.
“It’s a wonderful machine,” Simpson said. “It promotes circulation, helps their feet and they relax and eat well when they stand on it.”
Academic returned to Baker this February in tip-top shape. But her antics got the best of her when she was scheduled to make her first start in a tune-up sprint in early May, but acted up in the gate and was scratched.
Pressed for time to make the Oaks, Baker then ran the filly in a distance race, which she won by a neck, before encouraging Dion to pay $12,500 to supplement the filly to the Oaks field.
It certainly was money well spent.