TORONTO, November 15, 2022 – A pair of stakes, the $100,000 Ashbridges Bay, and $100,000 Lake Ontario, co-headline Friday afternoon’s card at Woodbine.
The 1 1/16-mile Tapeta events are the curtain-closers for the eight-leg stakes Ontario Sire Heritage Series, held at Woodbine and Fort Erie racetracks.
Ontario Racing and its Thoroughbred Improvement Program (TIP) Committee unveiled the series in 2021. With a total purse structure of $800,000 this year, the Heritage Series featured a total of four races – three opening legs and one final – for both 3-year-old colts and geldings, and 3-year-old fillies who are sustained to the Ontario Sires Stakes program.
A half-dozen sophomores, including Hunt Master, will take to the main track for the Lake Ontario, slated as race eight.
Owned by Openwood Farm and trained by Angus Buntain, the 3-year-old son of Hunters Bay will contest his fourth straight stakes event.
The bay arrives at his latest test off a second-place finish, just a head back of winner Banff, in the Lake Superior Stakes.
Sent off at 10-1, Hunt Master dueled to the wire in the 7-furlong turf event, a gutsy performance that was equal parts happy and heartbreaking for Buntain.
“That was his very first race on turf and I was a little unsure how he’d do on the grass, but obviously, it was a lifetime-best effort, especially Beyer-wise (92). It was a huge effort for him. Just the fact that he was well ahead of the rest of the group, he and Banff finished together, that’s what I liked the best. He fired on with Banff and fought right to the wire. He showed his true grit again.
“The only thing I can say about the race was that it was heartbreaking to lose by a head. I’m still searching for my first stakes victory as a trainer, and to get beat by that close really hurt. I would have been more comfortable if he had lost by a length or two. But at the same time, I was so proud of him. It was really a mixed emotions situation. I was so disappointed, yet so thrilled and proud of him.”
That effort came after a seventh to Moira in the Queen’s Plate on August 21 and a Prince of Wales showing that saw Hunt Master outdistanced and walked off in the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown.
“Both of those races didn’t go as we’d hoped. It was nice to see him rebound last time out. Ninety-nine percent of the time he tries his guts out. The only two blemishes on his card are the Plate and Prince of Wales. One of them, the Prince of Wales, was a debacle, and he was outclassed in the Plate. But otherwise, he’s shown up in every single one of his races. It was nice to see him do it again. After two tough races, I wondered as a trainer, ‘Are we going to get the old Hunt Master?’ So, I was very, very proud of him.”
Now, the gelding will return to the Tapeta and at a distance that has yielded a second and a pair of thirds from three starts.
Hunt Master, 2-3-2 from nine starts, worked 4 furlongs in :47-flat over the Tapeta on November 11 in preparation for the Lake Ontario.
“He’s doing terrific. I’m really, really pleased. After the Prince of Wales, we sent him home for a few weeks, let him spend time in the field and be a horse for a while. He did put some weight on, and he’s kept that weight and put on more since then. Emma [jockey, Wilson] breezed him and she noticed he had put on weight too when she jumped up, and that made me feel good. A bit of a break might have been exactly what he needed. That made me feel even more confident he was going to run well last race.
“Mentally, he’s the same. He’s just a good-feeling, happy horse who loves to train. The difference is now he’s bigger and stronger and it’s translated into him carrying his speed a little bit further than he could earlier in the year. I wish he could have been the way he is now going into the Triple Crown. We might have done a little better. He’s still maturing physically, and he is getting better. It’s nice to see. I’d love to have 10 of him in my barn. I don’t think he’s ever been better than he is now.”
Bred by Lanny McDonald, Linda Barron, and Susan Rasmussen, Hunt Master launched his career on September 4, 2021, a runner-up effort at 5 ½ panels on the Toronto oval Tapeta. One race later, he broke his maiden courtesy of a neck victory over 6 ½ furlongs over the Tapeta.
Seven starters, including My Girl Sky, winner of the Thunder Bay Stakes, Pleasure’s Gold, who took the Rondeau Bay Stakes, and Algoma Stakes victress Talk to Ya Later, will vie for top prize in the $100,000 Ashbridges Bay.
By: Chris Lomon for Woodbine Communications
Image: Michael Burns Photo