The third time was the charm for Etoile. A Group 3 winner in her native France, the daughter of Siyouni suffered defeats in her first two stateside starts for trainer Chad Brown, but broke through with a signature victory in Sunday’s $477,666 E. P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine. The E. P. Taylor was one of three graded stakes held over the Woodbine turf course on Sunday.
E. P. Taylor Stakes
A slow pace compromised Etoile’s chances when finishing second in the Aug. 15 Dance Smartly (G2) over the same course and 1 1/4-mile distance as the E. P. Taylor. A quicker tempo on Sunday clearly benefited the 4-year-old filly, as splits of :26.44, :51.04, and 1:15.50 over a good course proved sufficient for the pace-tracking Etoile to pounce at the top of the stretch.
Forging to a two-length lead under jockey Rafael Hernandez, Etoile was challenged late by the surging longshot Court Returns, but the finish line came just in time. Etoile crossed the wire clear by a neck in 2:03.12, with Secret Message, Rideforthecause, Theodora B., Pretty Point, and Elizabeth Way completing the order of finish.
“It was a good trip,” Hernandez told Woodbine. “I called Chad this morning and he told me, ‘Raffi, try to get a good trip like last time. Just make sure you clear down the stretch.’ He told me he’d been working the horse a few times and he put her outside of other horses, and she’d be finishing great.”
Etoile races for the partnership of Peter M. Brant, Mrs. M. V. Magnier, and Mrs. Paul Shanahan.
Northern Dancer Turf Stakes
First up was the $257,942 Northern Dancer Turf (G1), in which Say the Word rallied strongly to spring a mild upset.
Unremarkable splits of :25.25, :51.57, 1:17.23, and 1:41.97 might have theoretically handed an advantage to front-running favorite Admiralty Pier, but Say the Word wasn’t bothered by the modest pace. Charging furiously down the homestretch under Emma-Jayne Wilson, Say the Word closed from dead last at the quarter pole to win by a length over fellow late runner Sir Sahib.
Admiralty Pier settled for third prize, while Count Again, Woodbridge, Nakamura, Jungle Fighter, and Peace of Ekati completed the order of finish in the 1 1/2-mile event, which elapsed in 2:29.87.
Previously third in the 1 1/4-mile Singspiel (G3) at Woodbine, Say the Word clearly appreciated the added distance of the Northern Dancer.
“He settled for me beautifully; I literally just held the mane for pretty much the first mile and a quarter,” said Wilson of the Sam-Son Farm homebred. “Then as I gathered him up, I knew…I just knew. He was gaining on them last time and I just knew when he straightened, he was already in flight and it was going to be tough to beat him.”
The $219,881 Nearctic (G2) closed out the Sunday graded stakes action, and the outcome of the 6-furlong sprint was hardly a surprise. Heavy favorite Silent Poet seized the early initiative under jockey Justin Stein, vying for the lead with defending Nearctic winner City Boy through casual fractions of :23.65 and :46.16. This moderate pace left the leaders full of run for the homestretch, and Silent Poet promptly sprinted the final quarter-mile in :22.41 to beat City Boy by a half-length in 1:08.57.
The pace-tracking Kanthaka battled on to finish third, followed by Olympic Runner, Guildsman, Blind Ambition, Lady Grace, and Vanbrugh. But none were a match for Silent Poet, who hasn’t lost a turf sprint since July 2018.
“He just leaves the gate so quick. He hits his stride right away,” said Stein. “With a horse like that you get position and just slow him down, save as much horse as you can, and he does the rest. He loves his job, and when you ask him to run, he just gives you everything. He tows you down the lane.”
Trained by Nicholas Gonzalez on behalf of Stronach Stables, Silent Poet would be an intriguing contender for the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Keeneland if his connections choose to make the trip.