NIJINSKY STAKES | PURSE: $236,400 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 1 1/8 MILES (TURF)
Sam-Son Farms' homebred Up With the Birds rallied last-to-first to capture Saturday's Grade 2, $236,400 Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine, scoring his first victory since last October's Jamaica Handicap.
Trained by Malcolm Pierce and expertly ridden by Eurico da Silva, Up With the Birds was in full flight for the stretch run to win going away by four lengths. It was the second stakes win on the card for da Silva, who earlier captured the Ontario Damsel with Regal Conqueror.
Five Iron and Really Sharp set a swift pace in the Nijinsky, battling through splits of :46 ⅕ seconds and 1:09 ⅘ as da Silva waited patiently at the back of the pack aboard Up With the Birds. River Seven loomed large as the field straightened away, but there was no denying the late run of Up With the Birds, who flew home in a final running time of 1:45 ⅗ for nine furlongs on the firm turf. He paid $9 as the 7-2 second choice behind 3-2 favorite Za Approval.
"He's a very nice horse," da Silva said. "I wanted to do the same as I do in the morning and let him relax. He always works really well like that. I want to see him very confident in himself. Even more [lengths] back it doesn't matter, I just want him to be very comfortable with his stride, because I know when he turns, he comes very strong. In the stretch, I didn't even make him run. I just let him be happy and he was happy stretching out."
Pierce was pleased with the effort of his Stormy Atlantic four-year-old charge, who arrived in the Nijinsky with a quick five-furlong turf breeze in 1:00 ⅗ on July 11 around the dogs at Woodbine.
"He's had a couple of really good works coming into this race," Pierce remarked. "He's in good order and when you have a good horse right, they're dangerous."
Up With the Birds, Canada's reigning Horse of the Year, posted a record of 4-2-0 from six starts in 2013, including wins in the Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds, and the Marine and Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine to go along with his Grade 1 triumph in the Jamaica at Belmont and a runner-up effort in the Queen's Plate and Keeneland's Transylvania to complete his sophomore season.
The bay earned his first win of the year in this spot following a sixth-place run at Keeneland and a deceptively good sixth-place effort in the Dixie Stakes at Pimlico last out in mid-May. Up With the Birds is now 12-7-2-1, $1,286,409, lifetime.
William Sorokolit's homebred Regal Conqueror battled bravely down the lane to take Saturday's co-featured $139,739 Ontario Damsel for Ontario-bred sophomore fillies at Woodbine.
Trained by Darwin Banach, the Sky Conqueror miss was making her turf debut in the one-turn mile with da Silva in the irons as the 7-1 third choice.
Fancy Ribbons set the pace through splits of :23 ⅗ seconds and :47 seconds, with Skylander Girl and Shezaghostslayer tracking her lead. Skylander Girl took over from Fancy Ribbons at the top of the lane, but could not hold off a determined stretch run from Regal Conqueror, who prevailed by a half-length in a final running time of 1:34 on the firm grass to pay $16.20.
"She broke really sharp and then did today what she doesn't do on the Polytrack, which is relax," da Silva explained. "When I put her behind horses, she was so relaxed. I had tons of horse and she ran brilliant today."
Banach pointed to the chestnut filly's superb turf breeding as a major factor in the result.
"Sky Conqueror was the best horse I ever trained. He made two million on the grass and her mum [Classic Stamp] made one million on the grass." Banach noted. "It was nice to see her come through on the grass and relax for Eurico like she did and pick it up down the lane for us."
It was the second career stakes score for Regal Conqueror, who notched a victory in last September's Victorian Queen at Woodbine. She closed out her juvenile campaign with a fading eighth in the Princess Elizabeth in early November and has been unable to factor in two optional claiming races sprinting on the Polytrack this year. Saturday's win improved her career record to 6-3-0-0, $193,072.