|Seth Merrow at Saratoga|
My first appearance recapped the 2012 season at Woodbine and included a lot of video as we discussed the Queen’s Plate, Woodbine Mile and more.
This week, we focused on a few Sovereign Award contenders - - and talked specifically about Spring Venture, a two-time graded winner as a juvenile making her first start in Saturday’s Grade 3 Forward Gal Stakes, at Gulfstream Park.
(Sovereign Award winners will be announced on April 19. For info on buying tickets to the gala, click here.)
To brush up for the show, I put in a call to Spring Venture’s Sovereign Award-nominated trainer Mark Casse whose stock is nominated in a number of categories.
It’s quite a list:
Champion Two Year Old Filly - Spring Venture, Spring in the Air
Champion Two Year Old Male - Uncaptured
Champion Three Year Old Filly - Dixie Strike
Champion Three Year Old Male – Delegation
Champion Older Female – Roxy Gap
Champion Turf Female – Roxy Gap
Champion Female Sprinter – Roxy Gap
And I would imagine that Casse would also be pleased to see John Oxley named Outstanding Owner, Captivating (Uncaptured’s dam) named Outstanding Broodmare and one of his regular pilots, Patrick Husbands or Luis Contreras, named Outstanding Jockey.
A chestnut daughter of Spring At Last, who banked $310,821 in purse money as a juvenile, will have to fend off stable mate Spring in the Air and Rachel Halden’s undefeated Nipissing to take honours as Canada’s Outstanding Two Year Old Filly.
Her maiden score, a 4 ¼-length romp on the E.P Taylor Turf Course in August, was impressive, and one month later she proved her talent with a smart 1 ¾-length score in the Grade 2 Natalma, besting Spring in the Air and Nancy O.
Spring Venture switched over to the ‘Poly’ for her next start taking the G3 Mazarine, as a ridden out 1 ½-length winner over Seaneen Girl. That runner-up was then sold to new interests and promptly won the G2 Goldenrod, at Churchill Downs, next out.
Casse shipped Spring Venture, and regular rider Husbands, to Santa Anita for her next start - - the G1 Breeders’ Juvenile Fillies Turf - - and everything went pear shaped.
“She got away terrible,” said Casse, over the phone, on Thursday. “Patrick was stuck with nowhere to go, so he went wide and she ran a lot farther than everybody else.
“Then, down the lane, Patrick said he was still going to be right there, but when he went to hit her right-handed, he said she ducked in on him and he almost came off of her.”
The end result was a 13th-place finish that punters can draw a line through.
Spring Venture will make her dirt, and three-year-old debut, this weekend and she really couldn’t have ended up in a tougher spot having to battle multiple-graded winner Kauai Katie.
“This is a tough first start but we have to start somewhere,” said Casse. “I'd contemplated not running her, but when I looked at the alternatives, there wasn't much after for her.”
Fortunately, the daughter of Spring At Last boasts a solid work tab including a pair of recent bullet breezes at Palm Meadows.
“She's training really well. She likes the dirt, but you never know until you run on it,” he offered.
And what’s the game plan for Spring Venture in the Forward Gal?
“A lot of prayin',” laughed Casse. “One thing about Gulfstream, you have to be close. I don't see us being too far off it and we'll try to stay as close to her as we can, for as long as we can. Hopefully that's long enough.”
It’s hard to back Spring Venture for the win on Saturday, but if you’re playing exotics, she could get a trip behind the pace of Kauai Katie and Fusaichiswonderful.
|Spring in the Air|
The result was disappointing as Spring in the Air was so convincing with her dominant score in the G1 Darley Alcibiades, at Keeneland.
“She's had a few little issues, but she's still a few weeks away,” said Casse. “If all goes as planned, she'll make her first start in the Bourbonette at Turfway.”
Uncaptured, yet to return to the work tab since his narrow neck score in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, at Churchill Downs - - a superb follow-up to his earlier Louisville score in the G3 Iroquois - - is being pointed at Turfway’s revitalized Rushaway Stakes.
“He's doing well. He's wild, and he was feeling good this morning,” said Casse. “He was jumping around, but he trained well. We’ll look to the Rushaway and then come back in the Blue Grass. If successful in those two races, then the Kentucky Derby.”
Uncaptured, a definite contender for Canada’s Horse of the Year, should have no trouble taking River Seven and Dynamic Sky for Sovereign honours as champion two-year-old.
That said, Dynamic Sky, an Ontario-bred son of Sky Mesa, who captured Woodbine’s Simcoe Stakes before a sparkling second-place effort in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity, really stepped up his game in his three-year-old debut.
Pinned to the rail throughout the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, Dynamic Sky persevered in the late running to score a ¾-length score over stable mate Sky Commander.
“Dynamic Sky will work on Saturday and if he works well he'll run in the Sam Davis, at Tampa,” said Casse, who noted that Northern Lion or Gunderman could also be in line to start the G3 event to be held on Feb. 4.
However, as good as Dynamic Sky is, Casse is hopeful that Sovereign Award voters will reward Uncaptured, who generated a lot of attention when named the early Derby favourite before his two successful starts, south of the border.
“My fingers are crossed that Uncaptured is horse of the year,” said Casse.
As an aside - - with a lot of focus this weekend on the National Handicapping Championship, in Las Vegas - - Casse did have a few comments on a 5-1 morning line shot in Gulfstream’s third race on Saturday.
“Sky Commander was really disappointing in his first start of the year (5th, in a 6F optional claimer), but I don't think he's a sprinter,” said Casse, of the Sky Mesa colt who broke his maiden by 10 ¼-lengths at Churchill Downs, last July.
The conditioner, concerned that the chestnut might not have been as ready for that three-year-old debut as he had hoped, put Sky Commander through a rigorous morning regimen preparing for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile test.
“We trained him really hard for this race and he's not going to have any excuses,” said Casse. “If he's what I think he is, then he'll win. I thought he was as good as any two-year-old I had last year.”
And as for travelling two-turns for the first time?
“I think he's going to cherish that,” offered Casse.
So…check the tote board for Sky Captain on Saturday and best of luck to all those competing at the NHC.
While his score in the G3 Dominion Day blazed across the screen, Wood commented on how strong the Ghostzapper horse galloped out after 1 ¼-mile test.
There’s lots to like about Hunters Bay - - after all, he ran the fastest 1 1/16-mile main-track race at Woodbine when he took the G3 Eclipse in 1:42.63, (see video below!) before coming back to dominate the Dominion Day.
Whether he bounced or just didn’t take to dirt at Saratoga, the Whitney is the only blemish on a brief 2012 resume in which he won $450K from six starts.
Any doubts surrounding the talent of Hunters Bay were answered when he made his turf debut in the Woodbine Mile. Although he couldn’t keep up with U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan (who can!), he had plenty in the tank to fend off Group 1 winner Cityscape for place.
I’m not sure how we covered so much ground on live TV in a 15-minute segment, but Seth and Jeanne are pros and I look forward to more opportunities to promote Canadian racing.
Be sure to check out Equidaily daily! And click this link to live stream Capitol OTB.
Important news for Ontario horsemen was posted on the Woodbine website on Thursday afternoon following a press conference at the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
There’s plenty of coverage online regarding the two-year transitional funding agreement reached this week with the government of Ontario, and an agreement-in-principle with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. over leases for continuing slots operations at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks.
Check out reports by the Daily Racing Form and the Globe & Mail.
For horsemen, it can be noted that the Woodbine backstretch opens Mar.1; the training track opens Mar. 3; and Opening Day lands on April 20. Yes, that’s 4/20.