After falling just short in last month's $1-million Queen's Plate, jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva and Up With the Birds left nothing to chance Sunday in the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes.
Da Rosa moved Up With the Birds into the lead down the stretch, then emphatically held off a spirited River Seven to win the final leg of Canadian thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown at Woodbine Racetrack. The Queen's Plate runner-up easily handled the 1 1/2-mile distance, winning in 2:28.69 on a firm turf.
"I think he knew he lost last time (in Queen's Plate) so he said, 'This time Eurico, I do the job,' " Da Silva said. "When he took the lead, it was hard for another horse to catch him because he wants to take off. He's all heart, he's a very good horse."
Up With the Birds fell well back in the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate on July 7 but rallied strong to finish second, a half-length behind Midnight Aria in rainy conditions on a speed-favouring Woodbine polytrack. The race took its toll on Midnight Aria, who skipped the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on July 30 at Fort Erie Racetrack due to fatigue while Up With the Birds was always being pointed towards the Breeders' Stakes.
Up With the Birds didn't have to contend with either Midnight Aria or Prince of Wales victor Uncaptured as neither ran Sunday.
Winning trainer Malcolm Pierce said the rest certainly helped Up With the Birds easily pass his stiffest test. In fact, after taking the lead the three-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic showed why he was the overwhelming favourite, holding off a game River Seven before pulling away for a 2 3/4-length victory.
"He answered (questions about distance) them today," Pierce said. "I was real worried at the head of the stretch because River Seven was giving him all he wanted but the last eighth of a mile I got a little more relief as he pulled away.
"We didn't think there would be much pace so we were sure hoping to maybe be a little closer than we were in the Plate and just have some luck and a good trip. That's half the battle because we thought we had the right horse."
Owner Sam-Son Farm earned the $300,000 winner's share with a record sixth Breeders' victory.
River Seven was second in the 10-horse field, a neck ahead of third-place finisher Pyrite Mountain.
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was: Global Express; Who's Mr. Hughes; Highland Bay; Dragon Puff; Scipio; Bookies Nightmare; and Faithful Rose.
Wando is the last Canadian Triple Crown winner, achieving the feat in 2003.
Pierce said had Up With the Birds won the Plate, he would've run at Fort Erie and taken a run at the Triple Crown. But with a first- and second-place finish, Pierce wasn't lamenting about what might've been.
"We've never really tried him on dirt," Pierce said. "He worked on dirt in New Orleans over the winter but we didn't think it really needed to happen.
"If we would've won the Queen's Plate we probably would've gone to Fort Erie and tried it but after getting beat (in Plate) it sure made a lot of sense to come into this race really fresh."
Up With the Birds paid $3.10, $2.30 and $2.10 while River Seven returned $5.20 and $3.40. Pyrite Mountain paid $3.10.
River Seven was the only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races this year, taking second in the Prince of Wales after finishing 10th in the Plate. But trainer Nick Gonzalez, who also conditioned Midnight Aria, was pleased with River Seven's first effort on grass.
"I knew it was going to be a fight," he said. "A lot of the horses in the race were proven accomplished turf horses.
"We were experimenting but I'm very happy."
Gary Boulanger, Pyrite Mountain's jockey, said Up With the Birds was a deserving winner but added with a little bit of luck his horse could've taken second.
"I was following Eurico (Up With the Birds), I was stuck there the whole way," he said. "If I had a little better trip down the lane, I don't think I'd beat Eurico but I'd have finished second."
Up With the Birds also continued a trend in this race, becoming the 26th of 55 race favourites in the Triple Crown era to emerge victorious. The three-year-old colt has also finished in the money in all eight career starts (five wins, two seconds, one third) and boosted his lifetime earnings past $870,000.
Up With the Birds has also been impressive on turf, winning twice and earning a second-place finish in three career starts.
"I don't know, I think he's equally adept at both poly and turf to be honest," Pierce said when asked which surface Up With the Birds favours most. "He has never run on dirt.
"I was very proud of his race in the Plate although I was disappointed he got beat. He's just a good horse and I'm happy he's in my barn."
Pierce was brutally honest when asked what's next for Up With the Birds.
"Not a clue, I was just hoping to get through today," he said. "There will be no rush and no real plans.
"We wouldn't be looking for anything until October. I'll have to talk to the Sam-Son people and see what they want to do and make a plan."