TORONTO– Who’s the Star, at 13-1, rallied from well off the pace to win Saturday’s $105,800 Niagara Stakes, a 1 ¼-mile test over Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
Jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson and Who’s the Star, a 4-year-old son of Tonalist-Shine Forth, had no one behind them at the start of the Niagara. By the end of the race, they were in front of everyone.
Last of 11 at the break, Who’s the Star and Wilson watched as stablemate Like the King, to the inside, and a very wide Town Cruise, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile, tussled on the front end, with former holding a half-length advantage after an opening quarter in :25.40.
The pacesetters continued their battle through a half in :49.78, this time with Town Cruise on top by a half-length, and Mighty Heart in third. Wilson maintained a patient hand with her charge, still at the back of the pack, and waiting for the right moment to give the bay gelding his cue.
As the field rounded for home, Like the King was back on top and under pressure from all sides. Who’s the Star, owned by M Racing Group, LLC, began to pick up steam and ground on his rivals, as Wilson had him rolling on the outside, seventh at the stretch call, and gathering more momentum with every stride.
At the wire, the Mark Casse trainee was a half-length winner, with 36-1 Collective Force getting up for second. Like the King, also owned by M Racing Group and trained by Casse, held on gamely by a nose for third. Keyflower (FR), another Casse entrant, was fourth.
The final time was 1:59.77.
Wilson, who found out that she had the mount earlier in the day, was impressed by the late-running talents of the horse bred in Kentucky by Oscar and John Penn.
“I was watching it all unfold,” said Wilson. “On paper, it was an interesting race, a mile and a quarter and top-heavy with speed. When Mark called me this morning to say I was going to ride this one, I had a quick chance to go back through his replays. I was quite confident when we turned for home that he was going to quicken with a ferocious kick.”
For Wilson, it was simply a question if they had run out of time and turf.
“It was about getting my rhythm and getting him happy [early on]. He seemed to be quite settled where we were. You don’t want to build him up and get him going too soon. I knew about half-way down the backside that things were going to get more interesting. I thought we had a little too much to do at the top of the stretch – the other half of the entry kind of took control at the top of the lane – and I thought we were going to have a lot of work to do. I relied back on that :22 and change quarter he had last time, and I was confident the jet fuel was going to hit.”
It was the fourth win, along with a second and two thirds, from 13 career starts for Who’s the Star, who arrived at the Niagara in winning form. He was victorious in his Woodbine debut on June 19 in a similar performance, going from last to first in the 1 ¼-mile test over the E.P. Taylor Turf.
Who’s the Star paid $29.50, $15.50 and $10.60, combining with Collective Force ($31.80, $16) for a $908 exactor. Like the King ($6.30) rounded out a $7,580 triactor, while a $1 superfecta with Keyflower returned $18,564.
Live Thoroughbred racing continues at Woodbine on Sunday with a 1:00 p.m. post time.
Woodbine Press Release
Photo: Who’s the Star (Michael Burns)