The Grade 1, $300,000 Highlander Stakes is part of a fantastic Queen’s Plate Stakes day at Woodbine and brings together a field of nine accomplished turf sprinters. Seven of the nine are stakes winners and three of the nine enter the race off wins. Caribou Club will most likely be favored by bettors as he won the Grade 2 Connaught Cup Stakes on this turf course in June 2018. However, although he won the Grade 3 Joe Hernandez Stakes in January, Caribou Club enters the Highlander off a last of 13 finish in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint Stakes in Dubai three months ago. El Tormenta won this year’s Connaught Cup four weeks ago and he is an improving 4-year-old making his third start of the year so he may fit at this level. Extravagant Kid enters the race off a win in the Mighty Beau Stakes at Churchill Downs on the same day as the Connaught Cup and tries to add to his career bankroll of $542,073, which tops the field. Wet Your Whistle is a young horse who may be good enough to win at this level following a victory in the Get Serious Stakes in his most recent start. Yorkton will try to recapture the form shown last year when winning the Grade 3 Bold Venture Stakes before a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes. White Flag has won five of 13 career races on turf, including his most recent turf sprint, the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship Stakes last November, so he could be a factor as well. Detroit Steel, Souper Smart and Tricks to Doo (a stakes winner on dirt) are all attempting to win a stakes race on turf for the first time and round out the field.
Wet Your Whistle gets slight preference among a quartet that appear most probable to win, if for no other reason than he probably will go to post at the highest odds of the four. He won two of eight races last year and it took him six tries to earn his second career win which came in December, five months after he won his first career start. Nevertheless, only one of his eight races last year was a turf sprint. Starting off his 4-year-old campaign in April and following four months off, Wet Your Whistle won a turf sprint rather easily when going from sixth, nearly five lengths back on the turn, to the lead before drawing off by three lengths. Next time out on May 19, Wet Your Whistle won just as easily to take the Get Serious Stakes on the turf at Monmouth Park, improving to a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure. To put that figure in perspective, when El Tormenta won the Connaught Cup Stakes last month over the Woodbine turf, he earned a 106 figure, and the winners of the last four editions of the Highlander earned 116, 105, 121 and 103 figures. As such, with logical improvement in his third start of the year, Wet Your Whistle could post the upset in this race.
Extravagant Kid also enters the Highlander off a stakes win, having won the Mighty Beau Stakes at Churchill Downs four weeks ago. The 116 Equibase Speed Figure earned was a career-best and as good as the figure Wet Your Whistle earned in his most recent race, so there’s little doubt Extravagant Kid can run well enough to win. He’s also an extremely consistent horse as he’s finished no worse than second in seven of his last eight races, all but one of those stakes races. Interestingly enough, although based in Kentucky with trainer Brendan Walsh, Extravagant Kid shipped to Woodbine for the Jacques Cartier Stakes on the all-weather track in May and he wasn’t disgraced one bit when second to the incomparable Pink Lloyd that day. Walsh knows how to keep his horses, particularly this one, happy and healthy as the trainer’s record with back-to-back winners in similar situations is very good. Per a STATS Race Lens individual research query, over the last five years, Walsh has won with six of 19 horses in turf sprints who won their previous start. Getting local top jockey Rafael Hernandez is another sign Extravagant Kid has every chance to win this year’s Highlander Stakes.
White Flag is pretty accomplished as well, with five wins in 13 career turf starts, including the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship last fall at this six-furlong turf trip. He stretched out to a mile for the Tropical Turf Stakes in January and faded to fourth after leading from the start, but the cut back to six furlongs suits him perfectly. Having earned 113 speed figures in three straight races before the Tropical Turf, White Flag would need only the slightest improvement to run as well as Wet Your Whistle and Extravagant Kid at their best and be very competitive in this spot.
Caribou Club has the second highest career earnings in the field at $504,744. He’s raced exclusively on grass in his career, winning seven of 18 races. The most relevant of those wins came last year at Woodbine when the won the Connaught Cup, earning a career-best 112 figure. Caribou Club duplicated that effort and the same figure twice since, winning the Seabiscuit Handicap in November around two turns then winning the Joe Hernandez Stakes in January down the hillside turf course at Santa Anita. Then, shipping halfway across the world for his next start on March 30 in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai, Caribou Club trailed throughout and finished last of 13. He’s come back to work well and, if he can rebound to the form shown last year or in January, he certainly can run well enough to win. On the other hand, those 112 figure efforts aren’t as good as the efforts Wet Your Whistle and Extravagant Kid put forth in their most recent races, so it might be hard to consider a win bet on Caribou Club at low odds.
El Tormenta appears to be a cut below the four main contenders, but he is not completely without a chance. He’s a 4-year-old who may have improving to do and enters the race off a win in the Connaught Cup Stakes on this turf course four weeks ago. The effort earned a decent 106 speed figure, which was a big improvement off the 94 figure earned in April in his first start of the year and following six months off. Considering potential improvement, El Tormenta does have a shot to run competitively in the Highlander Stakes.
The rest of the Highlander Stakes field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Detroit Steel (90), Souper Smart (101), Tricks to Doo (105) and Yorktown (114).
Win contenders, in preference/probability order:
Wet Your Whistle