O'Brien Award-winning trotter Adare Castle kicked off her four-year-old campaign on a six-degree spring morning, Monday, April 3, with a winning qualifying effort at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Trotting home in :28.3 for the 1:57.4 qualifying win, Adare Castle caught fellow Ontario Sires Stakes graduate and late leader Sea Can, who was also making his seasonal debut from the Mark Etsell stable.
Driven by Etsell, Adare Castle landed in fourth behind stablemate Sea Can and Scott Young while Resolute Bay took command into the first turn with the parked outsider, Buck Dancer, pressing on into the wind though a :29.3 first quarter.
Buck Dancer cleared down the backstretch and reached the half in :59.4, but Sea Can swept first-over to take control during the third panel with Adare Castle in pursuit.
After hitting three-quarters in 1:29, the Etsell stablemates took off in a race of their own with Adare Castle getting the nod at the wire. Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final champion Safe Conduct finished 3-3/4 lengths behind in third while making his own seasonal debut for the husband and wife, driver and trainer team of Chris and Camilla Christoforou.
An O'Brien Award runner-up as a rookie, Adare Castle continued to rule in her sophomore season in 2022 as the top five money-earner in Canada and claimed divisional honours. The multiple Grand Circuit stakes winner boasts 14 victories and six second-place finishes from 22 lifetime starts for earnings topping $1.1 million.
Etsell — the cover feature for the April 2023 issue of TROT Magazine — shares ownership of the Muscle Mass-Pacific Ridge mare with Robert Newton, Graham Hopkins and Peter Porter.
One of the stars from the stable of two-time O'Brien Award-winning breeder Millar Farms also started her four-year-old season on a winning note during Monday's mega 14-race qualifying session. Velvet Stinger set fractions of :30.1, :59.1 and 1:28.2 en route to a 1:57 victory with James MacDonald in the bike. Five-year-old mare Shes Got It All finished three-quarters of a length back in second off a pocket trip while Atlantic stakes standout Therealprincess, winner of back-to-back Mohawk qualifiers in March, followed in third.
Trained by Nick Gallucci, the Bettors Delight-Our Hot Majorette mare earned the bulk of her $269,574 bankroll last year with eight wins including a Simcoe Stakes score.
Ontario Super Final champion Cold Creek Queso turned in the fastest mile of the morning, winning in 1:55 flat. Making his second qualifying start of his four-year-old season with Sylvain Filion in the bike, Cold Creek Queso followed in third most of the way and used a :27.4 final kick to defeat the pocket-popping Century Heineken by a half-length. Joelsyy Hanover finished two lengths back in third after leading through a :28.3 bullet first quarter and middle splits of :57.2 and 1:26.3.
Cold Creek Queso boosted his bankroll to $285,064 with a five-win campaign in 2022 that included a 1:48.3 career-best effort in Gold Series action. Murray Brethour trains the gelded son of Betterthancheddar-Machbethslady for Cold Creek Standardbreds.
The morning session also included a successful season debut from North America Cup eligible Brookdale Miki, who closed out a 1:56.2 wire-to-wire win with a :27.4 final frame for trainer Ben Hollingsworth and owners Douglas R. Polley and Douglas E. Polley. Jody Jamieson drove the Always B Mike-La Playa Brava gelding to the 3-1/4-length score over No Control.
Capping off the qualifiers, Aaron Waxman's six-year-old Down Under import Matai Louis N launched his North American campaign with a 1:57.1 victory in rein to Doug McNair for trainer Carmen Auciello.