“Canada! Canada! Oh Canada!”
Eurico Rosa Da Silva led the Woodbine crowd with cheers after navigating the bullish gelding El Tormenta, owned and bred by Ontario’s fabled Sam-Son Farms and trained by Gail Cox, to an upset victory in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.
Bettors, fellow horsepeople, children, racetrack staff, heck anyone within shouting distance of the finish line after the $1.12 million Mile — a Win and You’re In race that offers a free spot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile — sprinted to congratulate Woodbine’s most popular rider.
Not only was it Da Silva’s first win in the Mile and the last big race at Woodbine he had yet to win, but the 44-year-old Brazilian-turned Canadian is set to retire from riding at season’s end.
Speaking of 44, those were the odds on El Tormenta, inflated because virtually everyone with a toonie in their pocket placed it on Got Stormy, the sensational Grade 1 winning filly from the Gary Barber and Mark Casse team. Oh, and one of Sam-Son Farms previous two wins in the Mile (since it was moved to grass in 1997) came 20 years ago with Quiet Resolve, at 44 to 1.
For Cox it was easily the biggest win of her training career which began in 1993 and has seen her rise up the trainer ranks in the country with recent stars such as millionaire Something Extra, major stakes winners Simply Splendid and Hard Not to Like.
El Tormenta was one of the first horses Cox received from Sam-Son Farms to train when she joined that team in 2017. The farm that Ernie Samuel built in the early 1970’s is now owned and managed by a third generation of the family, 25-year-old Michael Balaz and 27-year-sister Lisa, plus their father Rick and aunt and uncle Kim and Mark Samuel.
A headstrong speedster last year as a 3-year-old, El Tormenta has settled down and matured under the training regime of Cox. He won the Connaught Cup (Grade 2) in his second outing of 2019 at seven furlongs but then was mired in a three-race streak of bad trips and bad luck.
“He’s a really nice horse, tough as nails and very competitive and I think he’s just grown up,” said Cox who also gallops her horses. “He’s more relaxed this year.”
The gelded son of Stormy Atlantic–Torreadora by El Prado (Ire), one of only two Ontario-breds in the Mile field, was well placed throughout the Mile while a sizzling early pace was set by Stronach Stables’ Silent Poet, European filly Awesometank and Admiralty Pier, Canada’s Champion Two-Year-Old of 2017.
When the pacesetters wilted, Da Silva just waited for a hole to open while three paths off from the rail while Got Stormy glided to the lead.
“When we turned for home I had lots of horse and when the room came we just went from there,” said Da Silva. “He gave me everything he could.”
It was a thrilling battle to the wire as Got Stormy was in front inside the eighth-pole but El Tormenta and Da Silva fought on and finished half a length in front of the filly. The time of 1:32.60 yielded a 101 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form, the highest of El Tormenta’s career.
It was the first time riding El Tormenta for Da Silva who announced earlier in the summer that this would be his last year of riding.
“This is a decision that I made for my kids,” said the father of three. “I have been a jockey for 30 years and now it’s time to be a father and a husband.”
Cox, who began training under her maiden name Casselman, grew up in Willowdale, ON and was a horse-crazy kid. She rode in the Eglinton Pony Club and soon was showing horses for none other than Ernie Samuel, who started with a large show farm before getting into racing.
“My parents kept hoping I would give it up one day and go to university,” said Cox, who eventually did leave the show jumpers but only to train racehorses.
That was a shrewd decision.
Michael Balaz, also an equestrian like most of his family, said Sam-Son has about 110 horses including broodmares, young horses and racing stock. This September, the farm offered its first yearling consignment at Keeneland September, stating that the family “wanted to test the market.”
Sam-Son was operated by Michael and Lisa’s late mother Tammy Samuel Balaz and when the farm’s filly Desert Ride won the Woodbine Oaks in June, he said the remarkable influence and legacy of the farm in Canadian racing, and for his family, emitted many feelings.
“When we were lucky to win Oaks this year I got sentimental and teared up because the granddam of Desert Ride (Eye of the Sphynx) was so special to my mother and the great granddam (Queen of Egypt) was special to my grandmother (Liza Samuel). There was all these connections. This is a new connection.”
The farm does not own El Tormenta’s dam Torreadora anymore. She was sold in one of the farm’s annual house-cleanings. She brought just $8,200 at the Keeneland January sale in 2017.
Sam-Son does have a 3-year-old full brother to El Tormenta, named Thunderbull, set to begin his racing career. The farm also has a half-sister to El Tormenta, named Iadorakid, who is beginning her broodmare career under the care of broodmare and stallion manager Dave Whitford.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile (Grade 1) will be held this year at Santa Anita around two turns on the turf Nov. 2 and while the team says they will discuss El Tormenta’s possible participation, the Woodbine Mile is well known for producing Breeders’ Cup champions such as Tepin, World Approval and Wise Dan.
More Woodbine Win and You’re In
The Grade 1 Summer and Natalma Stakes, held on a rainy day after the Woodbine Mile were both won by American juveniles. Decorated Invader, owned by the successful West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate, William Freeman and William Sandbrook, came from far back to win the Summer at one mile on the yielding grass in 1:36.34. Trained by Christophe Clement and ridden by Irad Ortiz, Decorated Invader is a son of 2013 Champion Older male in England and Ireland, Declaration of War from the Rahy mare Gamely Girl.
The Summer wins gives Decorated Invader a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Ortiz came right back and guided Abscond to a narrow win in the Natalma for the 2-year-old fillies. A filly by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame from the Grand Slam mare Solitary Life, Abscond came in from Kentucky via New York for trainer Eddie Kenneally and owners Apogee Bloodstock and Mike Anderson Racing. The Natalma was her second win in three races and her time was 1:36.51.