Strike Me Down, an Ontario-bred son of Tapit, will chase his first added-money score in Saturday's Grade 3, $125,000 Ontario Derby for 3-year-olds, part of Woodbine's stakes-stacked card that's headlined by the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International.
A Sam-Son farm homebred, Strike Me Down returns to the Toronto oval after two straight starts at Saratoga, where the grey finished second on July 29 and was placed third on September 1.
The colt also contested this year's running of the Queen's Plate won by filly Wonder Gadot, finishing fourth under Jose Ortiz, who will be aboard this Saturday.
Trained by Graham Motion, Strike Me Down has one win, three seconds and two thirds from seven lifetime starts. This season, he has one win, a pair of seconds and a third in five appearances.
“I like the timing of the race,” said Motion. “It looks like a competitive field, but the trick to him is getting his nose in front at the wire. He has a tendency when he gets there to just hold back a little bit. He's very capable on his day of running with this kind.”
The Ontario Derby, at 1 1/8-miles on the Tapeta, will be Strike Me Down's fourth stakes engagement.
In 2017, he finished second, a length back of Dixie Moon, in the Cup and Saucer Stakes on October 8. On June 2 this year, Strike Me Down was runner-up in the Tale of the Cat Stakes, run at 1 1/16-miles over the Monmouth turf.
“I've been very happy with the way he's done and how we've spaced out his races,” offered Motion. “He ran a couple of bang-up races at Saratoga, so I certainly feel good about running him.
“He's a little bit of a handful… he's a Tapit. He's not particularly difficult, you just to need to have a rider who is aware of his little idiosyncrasies.”
Sam-Son will seek its fourth Derby trophy, having won the race in 1974 with Runnin Roman, in 1987 with Duckpower and in 2013 with His Race to Win.
“It's a big deal to me to have these Sam-Son horses,” said Motion. “It's an outfit I grew up following in my very early days of training. It would certainly be a big deal to win any stake race for them, especially a race like this in Canada.”
Trainer Mark Casse, in search of his third win in the event (Stealcase, 2012, and Florida Won, 2014), sends out the pair of Curlin's Honor and Lookin to Strike.
A three-time winner from eight starts, Lookin to Strike is a bay son of Lookin At Lucky.
Owned by Gary Barber, the Kentucky-bred comes into the Ontario Derby off a 1 1/4-length triumph on the Woodbine Tapeta on September 9.
“He's a horse that I've kind of liked for a long time,” said Casse. “I thought his last race was very good, against older horses. I think he'll run well.”
Curlin's Honor, who boasts three wins and a second from seven career races, returns to the scene of his most recent win, a 2 1/4-length victory in the six-furlong Woodstock Stakes, on May 5.
The Florida-bred chestnut subsequently finished second in the Paradise Creek Stakes (Belmont Park), fourth in the Mystic Lake Derby (Canterbury Park) and fifth in the Caesars Stakes (Indiana Grand).
“His only synthetic race was extremely good,” noted Casse, referring to the Woodstock. “We're just trying to see whether he'll stretch out or not.”
Flight Deck, owned by Le Amici Racing Stable and trained by Mike De Paulo, won his debut last September at Woodbine. In his five most recent starts, the Ontario-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid has posted a pair of thirds, including in the Breeders' Stakes, third jewel in the OLG Canadian Triple Crown Series, on August 18.
De Paulo won the 2006 edition of the Ontario Derby with Shillelagh Slew, who was ridden by Dino Luciani.
Bred and owned by Earle Mack, Mr Ritz, who has three wins and a second from five lifetime starts, was victorious ($22.80 to win) in the Caesars Stakes on September 5 at Indiana Grand, for trainer Josie Carroll.
“We thought this was a nice spot for him going a mile around two turns on the turf,” said Charlie Carroll, who accompanied the colt to Indiana. “It worked out really well for us, and the jock (Jose Valdivia Jr.) rode fantastic. He followed everything Josie told him. He was able to carry himself through the first turn and not get locked down along the inside. This horse doesn't like to be in along the rail. He can be pretty aggressive.”
Carroll took the 2016 Ontario Derby with Ivan Dalos' Amis Gizmo. Luis Contreras was in the irons.
Kentucky-bred Peppered, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Reade Baker, sports a record of one win, two seconds and three thirds in eight races.
Six of his races have come at Woodbine, including his last three performances, where he's recorded a runner-up finish and two thirds.
Last year, Tiz a Slam, who'll run in Saturday's $800,000 Canadian International, won the Ontario Derby.
Here is a look at the field in post-position order for the Ontario Derby, scheduled as the third race on Saturday's 1 p.m. program.
$125,000 Ontario Derby (Grade 3)
Post / Horse / Jockey / Trainer
1 / Curlin's Honor / Irad Ortiz Jr. / Mark Casse
2 / Lookin to Strike / Gary Boulanger / Mark Casse
3 / Mr Ritz / Eurico Rosa da Silva / Josie Carroll
4 / Strike Me Down / Jose Ortiz / Graham Motion
5 / Flight Deck / Jesse Campbell / Mike De Paulo
6 / Peppered / John Velazquez / Reade Baker
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