October 27, 2020

Wet Your Whistle, Synchrony, Holy Helena star in graded turf stakes on Queen’s Plate Day

Wet Your Whistle and jockey Alex Cintron capture the Highlander Stakes (G1) at Woodbine on June 29, 2019 (c) WEG/Michael Burns Photography

David Palmer’s Wet Your Whistle continued his upward spiral with a new career high in Saturday’s $232,806 Highlander (G1), one of five turf stakes during the Queen’s Plate Festival at Woodbine.

Bet down to 7-2 from a 10-1 morning line, the Michael Trombetta shipper brought a three-race winning streak into his first graded test. Wet Your Whistle had romped in an entry-level allowance here in December, on the Tapeta, and in his April 25 comeback, he readily cleared his second-level condition on the Laurel turf in a course-record 1:00.74 for 5 1/2 furlongs. Next the dark bay sailed through his stakes debut in the May 19 Get Serious at Monmouth, but the Highlander marked a significant class hike against such turf sprinters as 5-2 favorite Caribou Club, 3-1 Extravagant Kid, and 4-1 White Flag.

Wet Your Whistle passed them all to announce his presence on the scene. Leisurely into stride for Alex Cintron, the Stroll gelding was unhurried as pacesetting Yorkton reeled off splits of :22.44 and :44.87 on the firm course. The stalking Extravagant Kid struck in the stretch, while Caribou Club briefly loomed in contention, and White Flag churned on. None had the kick of Wet Your Whistle, who motored late to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths and complete six furlongs in 1:07.88.

Extravagant Kid held second by a half-length from White Flag. El Tormenta, the same margin back in fourth, might have been closer if not for trouble that forced the 123-pound co-highweight to steady off heels turning for home. Next came Caribou Club, the other co-highweight, possibly in need of this first start back since disappointing in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on Dubai World Cup night; Yorkton; Detroit Street; Souper Smart; and Tricks To Doo.

“The last couple times he did not get out so well,” Cintron told Woodbine publicity. “I just left him alone. He’s been running great that – I just tried not to change anything in this race. I just tried to ride the same race I rode the last time. And I think he ran better than the last time. I was impressed with the last quarter of a mile… he was flying. He floated.”

Trombetta described the key to Wet Your Whistle’s improvement – the ability to save his energy for when it’s most needed.

“You know, he just learned to settle himself down just enough,” his trainer said. “He’s a high-strung type of individual and he’s learned to run when he’s supposed to and it’s been a lot fun.

“He is one of those kind of horses. He can do 5 1/2 (furlongs) and probably up to a mile. I think he definitely prefers one turn, but there’s lots of options for him. You know, he will do synthetic as well. So there are lots of choices.”

By extending his skein to four in a row, Wet Your Whistle advanced his scorecard to 11-5-0-1, $275,153. The four-year-old was purchased for a bargain $17,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. Bred in Kentucky by E.H. “Beau” Lane III, he was produced by the winning Belong to Me mare Winlocs Glory Days, who is also responsible for the stakes-placed Julie Darlin.

Earlier in the $136,606 King Edward (G2), Pin Oak Stable’s homebred Synchrony was much the best as the even-money favorite, and 123-pound highweight, despite getting shuffled back to last on the far turn. Initially within easy striking range on the inside, the Michael Stidham charge lost that position when the 28-1 Savage Battle took over the spot, only to be unable to keep it. As the longshot backed up in front of him, Synchrony in turn dropped further behind, but Javier Castellano rode with confidence that he had both horse and time.

Angling out to deploy his turn of foot entering the stretch, Synchrony rolled past the field and finally overtook Curlin’s Honor to win going away by a length. The blueblood son of Tapit and Grade 3-winning near-millionaire Brownie Points sped the mile over a good course in 1:32.95. Say the Word rallied for third, a neck up on Emmaus, and early leader Mr Ritz tired to fifth. Savage Battle wound up a tailed-off last.

“I’m very fortunate to ride the horse,” Castellano said. “I think he shows some class in the race. I think I had a lot of trouble on the backside, early in the race and I kind of switched him up a little bit. I was able to ride with a lot of patience and I think I rode the best horse in the race. I wanted to show he improved today and he really did it.”

The Hall of Famer added that the wide contours of Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor Turf helped Synchrony overcome the less than ideal trip.

“I love it,” Castellano said of the course. “You know it is a wide turn and a long stretch and you have all the opportunity for the best horse to win the race.”

Josephine Abercrombie was on hand to enjoy her homebred’s victory.

“It’s one of the most exciting things I think you could possibly look at,” the Pin Oak proprietor said. “I just love it.”

Synchrony’s resume now reads 23-9-4-6, $893,251. The six-time graded winner, who was making his Woodbine debut, has previously felt at home at Fair Grounds and Monmouth. Synchrony has captured the past two runnings of the Fair Grounds H. (G3) and last year’s Muniz Memorial (G2) in New Orleans as well as the Oceanport (G3) and Red Bank (G3) on the Jersey Shore. His nine stakes placings include the 2018 Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), the March 23 Muniz as the defending champion, and the May 25 Monmouth (G2), where he missed by a neck to Almanaar.

The Kentucky-bred six-year-old is a half-brother to current Honeybee (G3) heroine Chocolate Kisses (by Candy Ride) as well as stakes scorer Point System (by Broken Vow).

Castellano made it a double when guiding home 6-5 favorite Holy Helena, the 2017 Queen’s Plate champion, in the $149,706 Dance Smartly (G2). Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, the Stronach Stables homebred was third in last summer’s edition, but stamped her class this time around.

Rock My Love tried to steal it on the front end, and Castellano had Holy Helena well placed in second. When Get Explicit made an early bid to press the front runner, Castellano continued to play the waiting game until producing his mount at the right instant. The former Canadian champion swept 1 1/4 lengths clear in a final time of 2:02.08 for 1 1/4 miles on the good turf. Starship Jubilee, the other 122-pound co-highweight, grabbed second, with fellow closer Art of Almost third, and Rock My Love fading to fourth in her belated reappearance.

“I’m saying the Canadian air does a lot of good for her,” Frank Stronach said. “Mike (Doyle, the Stronach Stable manager based at Woodbine) had her here for a week and a half and I think things are great – they work well together.

“Javier is such a great rider. He didn’t panic.”

“I liked the way she did it today, the way she settled,” Castellano said. “I didn’t panic at the three-eighths because somebody moved outside me. I just sat still and made one run. The way she did it (was) phenomenal, the way she finished – unbelievable.”

Holy Helena has now earned $1,307,817 from her 18-8-3-2 line. The Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s champion three-year-old filly when turning the Woodbine Oaks/Queen’s Plate double two years ago, the Ghostzapper mare has since added the 2018 Sheepshead Bay (G2) and two straight runnings of Gulfstream Park’s The Very One (G3). The Ontario-bred was most recently fourth in the June 7 New York (G2) to Chad Brown’s Homerique.

Out of the winning Holy Bull mare Holy Grace, Holy Helena is a half-sister to Grade 2-winning sprinter Holy Boss. Their dam, herself a half to graded scorers Rookie Sensation and Mark One, descends from the prolific Missy Baba.

Jockey Flavien Prat, who would later mastermind a Queen’s Plate wire job aboard One Bad Boy, also landed the day’s first stakes, the $76,381 Charlie Barley for turf sophomores, with The Black Album. Winless since last September’s Prix La Rochette (G3), Team Valor International and Gary Barber’s runner was galvanized by the addition of blinkers and came out on top in a climactic duel.

Prat worked out a stalk-and-pounce trip for the fellow French import. But pacesetter Inventing Blame would not yield as The Black Album ranged alongside, and the duo fought to the wire. The Black Album got the head-bob as the 3-1 second choice while negotiating the mile in 1:34.01. Even-money choice Global Access, who was spotting the top two six pounds, did his best work late in a close third.

“I wasn’t sure,” Prat said of the photo finish.

“We drew a good hole (post 2), so from that draw we were able to get a good trip and I think the blinkers helped him quite a bit today.”

Eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) in his American bow, and last start for trainer Jane Soubagné, The Black Album took up residence with Rodolphe Brisset stateside. The Wootton Bassett colt returned with a third in the April 5 Transylvania (G3) at Keeneland, but after a seventh in the American Turf (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day and a remote sixth in the Penn Mile (G2), the equipment change was prescribed. The Black Album responded to improve his record to 10-4-0-2, $167,282.

Although Sam-Son Farm was out of luck with Desert Ride in the Queen’s Plate, her homebred “cousin” Desert Isle scored her first stakes win in the $76,380 Zadracarta. Coming off a course record-setting coup in a Delaware Park allowance, the Graham Motion pupil drove from just off the pace beneath Junior Alvarado. Desert Isle, the 3-1 favorite, had three-quarters of a length to spare over 21-1 outsider Miss Sea while completing seven furlongs in 1:21.28.

“She is a nice filly and she is very forwardly placed,” Alvarado said. “It just mattered on how she’d break and how she wanted to be. I didn’t want her to be too rank. You just want to give her a nice comfortable ride and that’s what she did. She broke good, she put me in a nice spot and I was just there for a ride.”

As a daughter of Bernardini and Canadian champion Eye of the Sphynx, Desert Isle is a three-quarter sister to 2009 Queen’s Plate-winning champion Eye of the Leopard; multiple stakes victor Hotep, runner-up in the 2010 Plate; and Grade 2 queen Deceptive Vision, all by A.P. Indy. The four-year-old now sports a mark of 9-3-0-0, $114,858.

“She is a filly we’ve always thought really highly of,” Motion said, “and maybe it took us a little while to figure her out. She is a filly you can’t take too much of a hold of, and I think Junior did a beautiful job. We love coming to Woodbine. It’s a beautiful turf course and it it’s a tremendous facility and we like to win stakes here.”