TORONTO — Having already watched Neepawa hit the accelerator in the Queen's Plate before fading down the stretch, owner Robert Krembil feared he was in for a repeat after his horse jumped out to an early lead in the Breeders' Stakes.
It turns out there was no need for concern.
Neepawa led wire to wire Saturday to win the third and final jewel of the OLG Canadian Triple Crown in two minutes 31.18 seconds at Woodbine Racetrack.
The three-year-old colt, who picked up the second victory of his career, finished a disappointing 10th in the Queen's Plate back on June 30, but surged ahead of the nine-horse field and never looked back on a 1 1/2-mile turf track that was slowed by overnight rain.
"I feel tremendous," said Krembil, the owner of Chiefswood Stables. "I was a little worried when he went to the lead at the start, but the pace was slow, the track was heavy. He has lots of stamina.
"As the race went on and you could see him handling it, our confidence went up."
Neepawa went off as a 2/1 co-favourite in the $400,000 event, finishing 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Say the Word (3/1). Flight Deck, at 19/1, was third.
Jerome Lermyte, who rode Neepawa for just the second time after guiding him to a third-place showing in the Toronto Cup on the same Woodbine surface at a distance 1 1/8 miles three weeks ago, said grabbing that early advantage in the 128th edition of the Breeders' wasn't the original plan.
"We took the opportunity and it worked out," said the French jockey. "He relaxed once he was out front on the back side and then he produced a very nice effort.
"We wanted to make him comfortable. It worked out that way and finished great ... job done."
Standout filly Wonder Gadot, who won both the Queen's Plate and the Prince of Wales Stakes, skipped the Breeders' and a chance at the first Canadian Triple Crown since 2003 in favour of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., next Saturday against a full field of male horses.
But Mark Casse, who works with both Neepawa and Wonder Gadot, completed his own Canadian Triple Crown — the first by a trainer in 15 years — thanks to Saturday's victory.
Neepawa paid $6.80, $3.60 and $3.10, while Say the Word returned $4.50 and $3.40. Flight Deck paid $7.90.
The son of Scat Daddy, Neepawa entered with a win and two third-place finishes in 2018. He's now been in the money in four of eight his races on turf, including his only other victory, which came back in January.
The Breeders' winner's share of $240,000 pushed Neepawa's career earnings to $357,614.
"Our goal is to compete in the big races. This is a big race," said Krembil, who held Neepawa out of the Prince of Wales because he doesn't do well on dirt tracks. "In the Plate he was just a little too fresh. He got out in front and the pace was too fast.
"It was a completely different race today."
The 2/1 co-favourite alongside Neepawa, Aheadbyacentury finished a stunning eighth after coming second to Wonder Gadot in both the Queen's Plate and the Prince of Wales.
"It was strange," said jockey Luis Contreras. "He broke good. He was on a perfect (line) on the rail, saving all the ground I could. For some reason he never really opened up. He never tried to kick anything.
"He was weird today."
A colt named after the Tragically Hip song that closed the iconic Canadian band's final concert in August 2016, Aheadbyacentury had never run a race on turf in his nine previous starts before Saturday.
"From the last 5/8s of a mile I was (asking him) to go and he doesn't want to go," Contreras said. "That's when I figured we were in trouble."
Aheadbyacentury finished 4 3/4 lengths behind Wonder Gadot in the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate on Woodbine's synthetic track on June 30 before getting bested by 5 3/4 lengths in muddy conditions on dirt at the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales in Fort Erie, Ont., on July 24.
"I tried to keep it as close as I could, but I don't want to override him," Contreras said of Saturday's performance. "He's a horse with a long future. You save the horse for next time."
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press