TORONTO — After a five-race stint south of the border, Canada's reigning horse of the year is home for the first time since sweeping the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Wonder Gadot arrived back at Woodbine Racetrack on Friday. The move came after the heralded filly finished sixth in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 14 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
Trainer Mark Casse said Wonder Gadot's return to Woodbine wasn't originally planned. But the hope remains the familiar surroundings will help her regain her winning form.
"We'd kind of hoped to run her at Churchill Downs during Derby week," Casse said in a telephone interview. "She hasn't run the races she needs to run yet so we're bringing her home.
"Sometimes you need to come home to get yourself right."
Wonder Gadot enjoyed a stellar 2018 campaign, finishing in the money in nine of 11 races (two wins, four seconds, three thirds). She captured both the $1-million Queen's Plate and $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes before skipping the third jewel of Canada's Triple Crown — the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes — to run against the boys in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes, where she was 10th.
After finishing third in the Grade 1 Cotillion, a 1 1/16-mile dirt event, Sept. 22, Wonder Gadot completed her season with a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 3.
Wonder Gadot, bred in Ontario by Anderson Farms, opened her four-year-old campaign finishing second in a race March 3, also at Oaklawn. Casse, who recently won his 10th Sovereign Award as Canada's top trainer, chalked up the sixth-place effort in the Apple Blossom Handicap, in part, to a change in race philosophy.
"It was a failed attempt at a new strategy," he said. "We sent her to the lead.
"We thought if we could get her out on the lead and let her go along, she might like that. She did that another time but in all fairness it was as a two-year-old and it was a much softer pace and she got out on the lead and galloped and was able to keep going. The pace she set the other day was probably a little too quick."
Casse admits that logic certainly went against the grain, but will never apologize for being open to change.
"If (owner) Gary Barber and ourselves weren't afraid to step outside the box, we wouldn't be running in the Kentucky Derby (with American-bred War of Will)," Casse said. "Everything about our horse points to grass being his best surface, but they run the Kentucky Derby on dirt.
"I've always lived my career that way and that's why I'll never be a 25 per cent winner. A lot of times you fail, but you can also succeed."
Case in point is Shamrock Rose. The horse won the '18 Breeders' Cup filly and mare sprint as a 25-1 long-shot after Casse made the decision to run the American-bred and owned filly just two weeks after winning the Grade 2 Raven Run.
"I think 95 per cent of trainers would never have run her back in two weeks," Casse said. "But you also have to train for people who can take that."
Casse, for one, isn't concerned with Wonder Gadot's form of late. She has won five of 18 careers starts (second five times and third on four occasions) and earned over $1.5 million.
"She ran a lot of long and hard races (in 2018)," Casse said. "Horses are creatures of habit and they get into patterns.
"I think we've just got to get her back into the right pattern. She has accomplished a lot and if I or Gary were concerned, she'd never run again. No, we're not ready to throw in the towel just yet. You know, it's not going to be a bad thing to see her come back home. It will be nice to let everybody see her again."
Casse said one of the reasons why Wonder Gadot returned to Woodbine is to get some time running on grass.
"Her breeding and everything has always said grass (as a favoured surface)," Casse said. "That's one reason why we've got her there, to kind of try her on the grass."
But Casse said there's no timetable regarding when Wonder Gadot will run again.
"Not really," he said. "I was just going to get her up there and let her tell me when we're going to run.
"The interesting part is she trains and looks as good as ever. So I feel very confident we can get her back up to her 'A' game."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press