Filly Ventura captures $1-million Woodbine Mile thoroughbred race

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TORONTO - A five-month layoff didn't stop Ventura from registering a historic win in the 13th running of the $1-million Woodbine Mile thoroughbred race Sunday.
The five-year-old daughter of Chester House stood ninth in the 10-horse field with a quarter-mile remaining, then took off down the stretch to become the first filly or mare to win this race. The mild 2-1 second choice behind favourite Bribon finished a length ahead of second-place finisher Ferneley in 1:32.04 on a firm Woodbine Racetrack turf course to earn Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel his third victory in this event.
"She broke out of the gate and (jockey Garrett Gomez) got her in behind all the leaders, they seemed to be going at a good enough gallop in front . . . but she was just totally relaxed behind the pace," said Garrett O'Rourke, the racing manager for owner Juddmonte Farms of Lexington, Ky. "I knew if she was back to her best that was the perfect place for her to be to produce her burst of speed.
"She came around the bend and it was a matter of that little bit of anxiety for a few seconds just to see if she was going to be able to produce it. But the very minute he let her go I think she just started to inhale them. It was just like the Breeders' Cup last year and every bit as exciting."
Gomez guided Ventura to a decisive victory in the '08 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare sprint. But following a second-place effort at the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland, the decision was made to essentially shut her down and point her towards the Woodbine Mile, and also this year's Breeders' Cup event.
"She had been on the go for a long time . . . and Bobby just made a call that we were going to aim for the Woodbine Mile and Breeders' Cup," O'Rourke said. "We looked at a few other spots that weren't going to work out and he just took it easier with her.
"She definitely beefed up and strengthened a lot. I think she looks much stronger now than the last time I saw her, which was the end of July or so. I think the time off has done her well and should sharpen her up for the Breeders' Cup."
Gomez also said he noticed a big difference in the horse.
"She looks bigger and stronger and maybe that was one of her downfalls," he said. "She was always a little lighter filly but this year when I saw her when they let her out to me after this five-month gap she looked like her girth had grown.
"She was bigger around, she was just a little more solid. Maybe that comes with age."
And Gomez said a bigger, stronger Ventura made his only decision of the race an easy one.
"My thing was not to make the lead so early and ride her the same way as I would normally would and have that one run," Gomez said. "When I wheeled out, the horse from Barbados (Daylight Express) was stopping and I was inside of him turning from home.
"The only real decision I had to make was whether to go around or inside that horse and at the time I thought I wasn't taking any chances, let me get her out of here and give her the opportunity. If she starts to get tired, oh well, we'll go again. But when I turned her loose and squeezed her and said, `Let's go,' she kicked in like she did on Breeders' Cup day and it's nice to have her back."
Ferneley, a 6-1 pick, finished second, with Sterwins, owned by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, was third at 9-1 odds.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, included: Jungle Wave; Bribon, Field Commission; Rahy's Attorney; Sand Cove; Grand Adventure and Daylight Express.
Ventura paid $6.20, $3.30 and $3.20. Ferneley returned $5.80 and $4.30 while Sterwins paid $4.20.
The Woodbine Mile win was the second in four starts this season for Ventura and ninth in 19 career starts. The $600,000 winner's share boosted her career earnings to over $2.2 million.
Not only did Ventura avenge a second-place finish to Canadian horse Rahy's Attorney in last year's Woodbine Mile, the victory clinched her a berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile event Nov. 7 at Santa Anita in California.
And this despite being in a seemingly agitated state prior to the race.
"She actually went up in the air and halfway bucked and she was just really, really fresh," Gomez said. "She was just feeling so good she just couldn't stand herself.
"You put a saddle on then put the jock on she's got a little attitude of her own. She's quite a handful. By the time I got her to the backside she was fairly calmed down. She was more like herself the last five minutes of the post parade. She loaded up, was good in the gate and left the gate good then she travelled well."
But Ventura's handlers will have somewhat of a decision to make because the horse could also defend her crown in the Filly and Mare sprint.
"She's definitely going to the Breeders' Cup," O'Rourke said. "The plan was always to go to the Filly and Mare sprint.
"A mile is pushing the limits of her stamina I think a little bit but she's so brilliant I think she could pull it off."

Organizations: Chester House, Grade 1 Madison, Ottawa Senators Field Commission

Geographic location: California, TORONTO, Lexington, Ky. Barbados Santa Anita

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