A glance at the toteboard suggested she didn’t have much of a chance. But, at the end of the 1 1/8-miles, Neshama managed to be mightiest of all in the Woodbine Oaks.
As the field departed the gates in the 61st running of Canada’s premier race for three-year-old fillies, the No. 7 horse, trained by Catherine Day Phillips, with Eurico Rosa da Silva, Woodbine’s leading rider aboard, was sent off as a 15-1 outsider.
Certainly, the bay daughter of Sligo Bay had legitimate talent as her two wins and one second (a nose loss in the South Ocean Stakes last November) in five starts prior to the Oaks suggested.
Still, she was facing top-rate competition, a field boasting several multiple stakes-winning types such as Gamble’s Ghost and Caren, along with the formidable Mike Doyle trio of Crumlin Spirit, Dublin Diva and Tiz Imaginary.
It was Caren, from post eight, who took control of the race, which featured opening splits of :23.75 and :47.91. With Jesse Campbell in the irons, the duo began to dash away around the turn, but da Silva and Neshama were gearing up to take aim at the leader.
In deep stretch, Neshama took over, but favoured Gamble’s Ghost, who had been bottled up along the inside, finally found daylight and came charging with a full head of steam.
Neshama and da Silva bore down and gutted out a nose triumph in 1:52.34.
It was Neshama’s third career victory and the first Oaks win for both da Silva and Day Phillips.
“I had a very easy trip. It went well for me,” said da Silva. “When Jesse Campbell asked his filly (Caren), she opened up a little bit and I thought I just wanted to keep going and maybe finish second. Then I saw (Caren) just stop and I saw a great chance to win the race. And she ran great. She dug in. She’s a nice filly. I’m thrilled.”
Day Phillips was equally elated with the win in the $500,000 stake, worth $300,000 to the Neshama ownership group.
“She’s been a nice filly and acted like a racehorse really from the beginning,” Phillips said. “In the fall, she really came into her own and this spring she’s been very professional. She really enjoys her job.”
Contreras was convinced a clean trip would have produced a trip to the winner’s circle for Gamble’s Ghost.
“I was on the rail where I didn’t want to be, but I had to stay there. When I tried to tip out to make my move, I could see the opening but everyone was trying to move at the same time and horses were tiring in front of me. When I made my move, if nothing happened, we would have won.”
It was the second consecutive upset in the Oaks. Last year, Academic paid $135.30 to win.
And while it was hardly a walk on the Woodbine Tapeta, it was a hard-fought and well-deserved win.
“Then I saw (Caren) just stop and I saw a great chance to win the race. And she ran great. She dug in. She’s a nice filly. I’m thrilled.”