A return to familiar ground ended in a return to form for King and His Court, who captured Sunday's $119,600 Wando Stakes, at Woodbine.
Trained by Mark Casse for owners Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable, King and His Court rebounded from two lackluster performances south of the border to win impressively courtesy of a sly rail-riding effort under regular rider Gary Boulanger.
Canada's champion two-year-old male of 2016 came into the Wando off a ninth-place finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa in February, followed by a tenth-place performance in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes in March at Turfway.
It was Montu, second choice on the toteboard, who seized control of the 1 1/16-mile feature, taking his five rivals through an opening quarter in :24.91 as Megagray tracked his early foot to the outside.
Mutuel favourite and Queen's Plate Winterbook top choice Tiz a Slam was settled in third, just off the leaders, who clocked a half-mile in :49.78, as Boulanger kept King and His Court to task near the back of the pack.
Montu and Megagray were soon under siege around the final turn as Tiz a Slam loomed menacingly to the duo's outside. But it was Boulanger and King and His Court, flying on the inside, who proved to be best of all, notching a one-length triumph over Tiz a Slam. Megagray held for third. King and His Court covered 1 1/16-miles in 1:44.41.
Boulanger was thrilled to see last year's Coronation Futurity and Display Stakes winner bounce back in a big way.
“At first, we thought trying him on the dirt was an experiment and maybe it wasn't his kind of surface,” said Boulanger, of the Sam F. Davis. “We went to the Spiral and he was still kind of lackluster and not showing the 'King' that I knew. I'm not sure if it's the shipping or just being back here where his home base is and he's really happy. Obviously, Mark's done a tremendous job getting him here. He acted pretty good the last few times I've been on him and he showed up today like his old self.”
The veteran rider's decision to take to the fence proved to be the perfect game plan.
“When I was as close as I was at the three-quarter pole, I knew we weren't going that fast. He's kind of in the bridle and he's never really been that way. So now, I'm just kind of biding my time, waiting for what spot I take, what angle I'm going to go around. Am I going to split? Am I going to come up the fence? When the rail opened up, I just gave him a little nudge and he just jumped right on the bridle and ran home pretty hard.”
Assistant trainer Kathryn Sullivan was equally pleased with the strong outing.
“He looks great,” she said. “From two to three, he's really grown, filled out and really matured a lot. It was a pretty tough race, but he's been working really well and I thought he was really happy to be home.”
Gus Schickedanz, owner and breeder of 2003 Canadian Triple Crown champion Wando, made the trophy presentation.
King and His Court, bred in Ontario by Patricia and Robert Weber, banked $72,000 in victory while improving his record to 4-0-4 from 12 starts.
He paid 11.70, $3.80 and $2.60, combining with Tiz a Slam ($2.60, $2.10) for a $32.30 (3-4) exactor. A 3-4-1 triactor (Megagray, $2.70 to show) was worth $127.90, while a $1 Superfecta [3-4-1-2 (Gamble's Citizen)] came back $209.85.
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