Taking a Stand Against a Heavy Favorite in Toronto Cup

Proven Strategies, shown winning last month at Saratoga, is Mike Curry’s pick to post a mild upset over favorite Shirl’s Speight in Saturday’s Toronto Cup Stakes at Woodbine. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Shirl’s Speight is a terrific prospect as a racehorse with a bright future. Owner Charles Fipke and trainer Roger Attfield thought so highly of him they entered the 3-year-old Speightstown colt in the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile against older males in only his third career start and he actually held his own, finishing seventh but beaten by only 5 ½ lengths by some of the best milers in North America.

So, Shirl’s Speight (#6) should be a slam dunk to win the $100,000 Toronto Cup Stakes at Woodbine on Saturday, a one-mile turf race restricted to 3-year-olds, right? I don’t see it that way.

Sure, the talent gap could be so vast that 4-5 morning-line favorite Shirl’s Speight overwhelms his eight challengers, but I’m skeptical he will be able to produce an elite effort coming back on short rest just two weeks after what was, by far, his toughest race to date in the Sept. 19 Woodbine Mile.

Shirl's Spieght with Attfield. (Michael Burns/Woodbine Photo)

While I do think, long term, Shirl’s Speight profiles as the best racehorse from the nine 3-year-olds entered, I’m going to bet he’ll be vulnerable Saturday in the Toronto Cup.

There also happens to be another entrant that I really like in this spot in Proven Strategies (#1), a more tested 3-year-old with 12 career starts, including five stakes races, coming off a very nice win at Saratoga Race Course. In that victory, the Sky Mesa colt set an easy pace and then covered his final quarter-mile in a swift 22.85 seconds.

Two starts before that, he finished second in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park to Decorated Invader, who might be the best 3-year-old male turf horse in North America or is at least in that conversation. Proven Strategies also came in second in the English Channel Stakes in May, beaten by 1 ½ length by Gufo, who followed with a victory in the Grade 3 Kent Stakes and a runner-up finish by a head in the $500,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes.

Trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, Proven Strategies has shown throughout his career that he can press the pace and finish fast, and like Shirl’s Speight he’s held his own against elite competition when beaten by only two lengths last year in both the Grade 1 Summer Stakes on this turf course and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

My strategy will be to play Proven Strategies to win and also to try him in an exacta with a couple of longshots in search of a bigger score.

I plan to use Casse stablemate Duke of Carthania (#3) and Runaway Dreamer (#8) to try to spice up the exotics.

Duke of Carthania (20-1 odds on morning line) comes out of an unplaced finish in a five-furlong turf stakes on the inner turf course at Woodbine that I think was just too short for him. Prior to that he won a seven-eighths of a mile allowance race on this main Woodbine turf course, overcoming trouble with a nice late rally to prevail. He also won at a mile on grass as a 2-year-old, so I think he’ll show much more in the Toronto Cup than he did in his most recent race.

I’ll also use another closer for the exacta in Runway Dreamer (12-1 odds), a filly facing males in this spot after she was scratched from the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes Sept. 12. The Tonalist filly closed from 10th to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the inner turf course at Woodbine on Aug. 22 by three-quarters of a length, and she signaled her readiness for this race with a terrific five-furlong workout on the synthetic main track in :58.60 on Sept. 27, which was the fastest of 46 timed workouts at the distance.

Main strategy on a $20 Budget

$20 to win on #1 ($20)

What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, eighth race, $20 to win on #1

Exacta strategy on a $20 Budget

$2 exacta box: 1,3,8 ($12)

What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, eighth race, $2 exacta box 1,3,8

$4 exacta 1 with 3,8 ($8)

What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, eighth race, $4 exacta 1 with 3,8

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