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Sylvain Soothes A Frisky Filly

Published: July 17, 2012 10:03 pm ET

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“I feel like we got lucky winning that race with the behaviour that she provided before the race, going to the gate and all. It worked out, but it easily could have gone the other way.”

When Woodstock Raceway opens its 2012 Ontario Sires Stakes season this Friday, July 20 with nine Grassroots divisions for the two-year-old pacing fillies local filly Mary Celeste will look to keep her momentum going. Bred, owned and trained by Stephen and Marilyn Gillard of Tavistock, Mary Celeste and driver Sylvain Filion posted a 1:56.2 victory in the Canada Day contest, but the Grassroots trophy was accompanied by a fair bit of drama.

“She was bad that night,” says Stephen Gillard, who is hopeful that Filion makes the trip to Woodstock for Friday’s contest, which will see the filly start from the trailing Post 8 in the second $24,000 division.

“He said he would if she drew into an early race, which she did, but I was the only guy that put him down and I don’t really want to hold him to that,” explains Gillard. “I would like him, he’s the biggest reason we won that race at Mohawk. He just sat back and relaxed and he didn’t get too worried about her behaviour, and in the end it worked out so it would really be nice to get him back again, but as to whether he will make the trip for one horse, I don’t know.”

Mary Celeste’s bad behavior stemmed from her raw enthusiasm for speed, and Filion was confident the filly will become more tractable as she gains more experience with racing. Gillard hopes that the veteran reinsman is correct and that Friday’s trailing post will help the filly relax at the start of the race.

“She’s a little feisty. Things don’t happen fast enough to suit her, like the starting gate just won’t get out of the way quick enough to suit her,” notes the horseman.

“I think it (Post 8) will help her because the starting gate won’t be there to get her all revved up,” he continues. “She likes to race, and when you swing her in she wants to get going, and I think with another horse in front of her it probably will help her, not hurt her.”

A daughter of Gillard’s stallion Your Nemesis and former broodmare Lucky Call, Mary Celeste is a full sister to $406,200 winner Call Me Yours, but the breeder says she is nothing like her elder sibling. While Call Me Yours gets nervous prior to the start of each race and then relaxes once she turns in behind the gate, Mary Celeste seems to be the complete opposite.

“She’s actually pretty laid back, I mean she’ll put you right to sleep in the paddock,” Gillard says. “So I mean, that’s good, but when she goes to the track and she knows it’s go fast time — and she really likes that, and maybe I don’t do it enough to suit her because most of her work is going to be slow work — she, yeah, she gets up for it.”

If Mary Celeste can mind her manners and turn in another strong performance in Grassroots company on Friday, the Gillards are considering Grand River Raceway’s Battle of the Belles eliminations for her next start. Their only concern is the filly’s size. Already a towering 17 hands, Mary Celeste’s head hovered over the starting gate in a recent schooling session at Grand River.

“I took her to Grand River last week and schooled her, and she’s so big her neck was over top of the starting gate. It was bad,” recalls Gillard.

“There’s such a tilt in the turns at Grand River that the inside of the gate dips down really low and I suspect the outside gets up high in the air. I guess I should be hoping for the five, six or seven hole or something, but anyway, one race at a time,” he adds ruefully. “We’ll go to Woodstock and hopefully she has an outing that will give us the encouragement we need to go to Grand River for the Battle of the Belles and then we’ll worry about the Gold thing later.”

Three of the five division winners from the July 1 season opener at Mohawk Racetrack are headed for Woodstock. The other two division winners from the Grassroots season opener made the leap up to the Gold Series for the second event and both fillies advanced to the Gold Final, Right On Molly winning her July 15 elimination at Rideau Carleton Raceway and Mach Star finishing fourth.

In addition to Mary Celeste, division winners Senorita Santanna and Leaveumlady opted for a second Grassroots start, and will line up at Post 6 in the first race and Post 7 in the third race, respectively.

The two-year-old pacing fillies will duel in Races 1 through 9 on Woodstock Raceway’s Friday afternoon program, which gets underway at 4:00 p.m. To view the entries from Woodstock's stakes-filled card of harness racing, click the following link: Woodstock Raceway - Friday Entries.


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