Maryland invaders try Canadian Grade 3

- -

Joy Cooper took the photo accompanying this article and commented “The roads are actually pretty good.”


Cooper was headed north Friday afternoon on a nearly 500-mile journey from Fair Hill, Md. to Woodbine Race Course near Toronto, Canada. Her three passengers all run in Sunday’s Valedictory, a Grade 3 marathon on the Polytrack at Woodbine. Eagle Poise won the race two years ago and is the 2-1 favorite. His Fair Hill-based neighbor Tricky Hat is the 5-2 second choice. Their traveling buddy from the Butler, Md. barn of trainer Cyril Murphy, Address Unknown is a dangerous 20-1 longshot. They’re part of a field of eight in the $150,000 marathon at 1 3/4 miles. It’s the fourth race with a scheduled post time of 2:26 p.m. on closing day at the track.

The van drivers, Cooper and her husband Keith, were thinking about more than the race however as they navigated the roads north. The trip takes nine or 10 hours depending on potential delays at the border. Horse vans must stop and get paperwork processed – to ensure the horses don’t stay more than 30 days – and then it’s back on the road. The tractor trailer (it’s better in the cold than the Coopers’ smaller truck) left Fair Hill about 4 Friday morning: I-95 north toward Philadelphia, up the Blue Route to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, to I-81, over to Buffalo and around the lake (Ontario). Sounds easy, but keep in mind Woodbine is north of Finger Lakes, north and west – way west – of Saratoga and beyond places where hockey players come from such as Kitchener, Brampton and St. Catharines.

“We had really good weather until about Rochester,” Cooper said, giving a shoutout to her hometown. “Now there’s lots of snow. They say it’s sunny at Woodbine.”

Sunny no more. Weather forecasts called for snow and a low of 10 tonight and a high of 22 with snow showers Sunday.  In a change of pace for the Coopers, and most horsemen, the horses shipped in light blankets. They arrived Friday afternoon, after stopping every four hours for water and a general check. They trained lightly Saturday, when it was 6 degrees (not all that much colder than Fair Hill in reality). Cooper makes the trip regularly with Fair Hill horses and will saddle Eagle Poise for trainer Graham Motion. Local trainer Kevin Attard will handle the final preparations for Tricky Hat, standing in for Shug McGaughey while Murphy flew up to attend to Address Unknown.

Regardless, they’ll lean on Cooper for expertise. She’s been called on to line up exercise riders, blacksmiths, you name it for Motion, Michael Matz and others over the years at Woodbine.

“I love it up there, the people are so nice,” Cooper said. “Anything goes wrong, I know who call which is important when you’re that far away from home. The weather stinks this time of year, but growing up in it you know how to layer. I’ve got more clothes with me than I’ve packed all year. It’s all about the layering.”

She’ll be layered up Sunday at the races, ready to care for Eagle Poise. The 7-year-old won twice at Woodbine (with Cooper) in 2011 – taking the Valedictory and its prep race. Since then he’s finished second in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano, missed a year with an ankle injury and placed in three stakes this year. He was third behind Imagining and Atigun at Saratoga, second to Tricky Hat (by a neck) in the Laurel Turf Cup in September and second again in Keeneland’s Sycamore (behind Najjaar but in front of Tricky Hat) in October. Patrick Husbands, aboard for the two Woodibne wins in 2011, reunites with the son of Empire Maker.

Tricky Hat makes his eighth start of the year while gradually blossoming into a stakes performer for McGaughey. The son of Hat Trick won one of two in his native Chile in 2011, added a Gulfstream Park allowance late last year and needed five tries to break through the next allowance level. His last three races are his best and Rosie Napravnik rides for the third consecutive time.

Newcomer Address Unknown won five races and more than $250,000 in England with victories coming 2 5/16-mile Chester Cup this spring and the 2-mile Shergar Cup at Ascot last year. Like Eagle Poise, the son of Oasis Dream was bred by Juddmonte Farm. Imported over the summer, Address Unknown flopped in his American debut at Saratoga, but has regrouped with two training flat wins going 1 3/8 miles and 1 1/2 miles at steeplechase meets this fall. The last came at the Colonial Cup meet in November. Local David Moran takes the riding call from Murphy, a former steeplechase jockey who recently took a private training job with owner Irv Naylor.

Quaesitor and Turkish finished 1-2 (a head apart) in the Valedictory prep Nov. 17 and look like the best of the locals.

Cooper will be cheering for old favorite Eagle Poise, but hoping for a good run from all three travelers.

“Oh I’ll root for Eagle, this race has been on the calendar all year for him,” she said. “I’ve been lucky enough to see all of his races this year. I like him, but they are three nice horses to take. Everybody travels well and no matter what we’ll get back on the road Monday.”

Weather permitting of course.

“Hey, you never know,” Cooper said. “I told everyone to pack extra feed just in case. We’re not in a hurry going home.”


Valedictory Entries.

Woodbine Website Preview.