Gary Barber's Lookin to Strike was kept in striking distance of the leader throughout most of the Grade 3, $126,750 Ontario Derby, before seizing the lead and then keeping another Mark Casse trainee at bay in the 1 1/8-mile added-money feature, Saturday at Woodbine.
Ridden by Gary Boulanger, Lookin to Strike was strong down the lane and scored by a neck at 4-1 odds as he fended off a hard-closing Curlin's Honor to take all the spoils. Mutuel favourite Mr Ritz took show honours, while pacesetting Strike Me Down faded to finish fourth.
It was Sam-Son Farm's Strike Me Down who took command early, with Lookin to Strike, Mr Ritz, Curlin's Honor and Peppered keeping close tabs on the grey through an opening quarter-mile in :24.46 and a half-mile run in :49.39.
After jockey Jose Ortiz and Strike Me Down arrived at the three-quarter mark in 1:12.11, Boulanger gave his cue to Lookin to Strike, who did just that and hit the front, 1 1/2 lengths on top at track announcer Robert Geller's stretch call.
“He's pretty manageable – he'll let you do what you want to do,” said Boulanger. “He's easy to rate, he's always got gears there. They slowed it down pretty easy in the first quarter. I thought, 'You know what, my horse is comfortable, I'm not going to leave him alone and let him lope and back it up too much.' A couple of guys came to my off side. 'Strike' is always there, so I said 'Okay,' and on the middle of the turn I said 'Iet's see what he (Strike Me Down) has.' I went by him pretty handily.”
As Strike Me Down gave way, Curlin's Honor, under Irad Ortiz Jr., soon came calling with a spirited surge to Lookin to Strike's inside, the duo each digging down deep and dueling to the wire in the first stake on Pattison Canadian International day at the Toronto oval.
The final time for the three-year-olds was 1:49.30.
“That was a great finish,” said Kathryn Sullivan, assistant trainer to Casse. “They both ran really well. You can't ask for more than that. “Gary (jockey, Boulanger) and I were talking in the paddock and he's so confident in this horse. He said that he could do anything – he could go to the lead, he could wait – so you've got to love a horse like that. He rode him really smart, really confidently, and it was a great race.”
The win was the fourth from nine starts and third triumph in the past four starts for Lookin to Strike, a Kentucky-bred son of Lookin At Lucky. The bay colt came into the Ontario Derby off a victory at Woodbine on September 9.
“He kind of got a little lost when he got out there two or three (lengths) in front – he was sort of like 'Where did everybody go? Who am I supposed to run at?'” said Boulanger. “I was kind of chirpin' and screamin' at him. I could hear someone coming, and he was like 'Yeah, I've got something left here.' Galloping out, he just took off again. He's a pretty nice colt.”
Lookin to Strike paid $10, $4.90, and $3.30, while Curlin's Honor returned $5.40 and $3.40. Mr Ritz, who won the Caesars Stakes at Indian Grand on September 5, paid $2.30 to show. The 2-1 Casse exactor paid $55.10, while a 2-1-3 triactor came back $182.30. A $1 superfecta of 2-1-3-4 returned $134.05.
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