Whether in the barn, on the training track or on the racetrack, it’s hard to miss Fifty Proof. The chestnut gelding is one of the biggest horses on Woodbine’s grounds (reaches 17 h.h.) and carries that distinct white blaze down his face.
“He’s a big, gentle giant,” said David Willmot of Kinghaven Farms, who owns the son of Kinghaven stallion, Whiskey Wisdom, in partnership with John Fielding and Ben Hutzel. “Everybody loves him around the barn and around the backstretch. He’s a really, really loveable horse.”
Out of the stakes placed Horatius mare, Phi Beta, Fifty Proof now carries with him another distinguishable quality to be known for, as he was named Champion Older Male at the 37th Sovereign Awards.
Bred by the late Bob Anderson near St. Thomas,Ontario, Fifty Proof ‘s career got off to a late start as he debuted at Woodbine for the first time in Augustof his three-year-old season. It didn’t take him long to break his maiden, however, as he found the winner’s circle in just his second career start.
He remained consistent early in his career, recording four wins in his first seven starts. Finally, he burst on to the graded stakes scene as a four-year-old in 2010, finishing second to Redwood in the Grade I Northern Dancer Turf Stakes. After a fifth place finish as the lone Canadian-bred in the Grade I PattisonCanadian International that same year, Fifty Proof traveled to Japan for the Group One Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse.
“After he broke his maiden my partners were both saying, ‘so are we going to Japan or Dubai?” Willmot said. “It was probably not the right thing to do with him but when you’re proud of a horse, you like to take them and show them off and challenge them.”
Fifty Proof was in tough in Japan from the start and never really challenged, finishing a distant 18th. “It’s a wonderful experience, they do everything for you,” said trainer Ian Black. “The one thing I have learned, and the same as Dubai, is that North Americans have to have a very special horse to go (abroad) and in their own backyard.”
So Fifty Proof returned to his own backyard and after a winter away from the races, returned to Woodbine on April 22, 2011 to make a start in an allowance-optional claiming race on the Polytrack surface. Fifty Proof won that effort by 1 _ lengths and proceeded to the Grade III Eclipse Stakes, where his strong polytrack form continued as he defeated Older Male finalist Don Cavallo by a half-length to record his first graded stakes victory.
He continued to run well in his next two starts after the Eclipse victory, switching to turf for back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Grade II King Edward Stakes on June 25 and the Grade II Nijinsky Stakes on July 24.
His 2011 campaign would come to a screeching halt, however, as Black noticed an issue with Fifty Proof ‘s suspensory while preparing for the Grade II Sky Classic Stakes. The injury turned out to be a tear, causing Fifty Proof to miss the rest of the season.
“We caught it early and we gave him lots of time to heal,” said Black, who sent Fifty Proof along for his first 2012 workout on April 8. When planning out his 2012 campaign, Black will try to make the difficult decision of a turf or Polytrack focus, as Fifty Proof has shown he can compete at a high level on both surfaces.
“We thought he was a turf horse, but his Polytrack form is pretty good too,” said Black. “I’d say he may been even better on Polytrack.”
With the versatility Fifty Proof provides his connections, the book may be wide open for him in 2012. Black and Willmot anticipate that the “gentle giant” could return to the races as early as June. “I think a logical target for him is probably the Steady Growth Stakes (June 17),” said Willmot. “That’s about the timing of when he would be back if all goes well.”