Weekend Stakes: Where to Watch brought to you by West Point Thoroughbreds

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:48am

There are but two graded stakes in America this weekend, but north of the border, Woodbine will present its signature races on Saturday and Sunday. The Toronto venue has juveniles in the spotlight Saturday with twin races, the Summer, for males, and the Natalma, the filly version. Both Canadian Grade 3 races are one-turn miles on the grass. Woodbine has the unusual track configuration of the turf course being on the outside of its main track, which has a Polytrack surface.

Seven of the eight starters in the Summer will be making their stakes debuts, including Forum, a colt by Roman Ruler, who broke his maiden by a half-length on the grass last out at Saratoga. Ronin Dax comes in from the other side of the country; the Bobby Troeger trainee is a maiden winner on Del Mar's lawn. The only entrant with stakes experience is Todd Pletcher's Pluck, who missed by a neck in Monmouth's Continental Mile, only to be disqualified to fourth for interference in the stretch. The locals will probably pin their hopes on Stormy Rush, a son of Stormy Atlantic from Roger Attfield's shedrow, who is unbeaten in two starts.

Roxy Gap is the 7-5 morning line favorite for the Natalma. The Mark Casse-trained daughter of Indian Charlie won her turf bow by nearly five lengths in an Aug. 21 allowance and she goes for her fourth consecutive win here. Roger Attfield has entered Sheba's Secret, runner-up to Roxy Gap in her previous race, and Todd Pletcher has entered a pair, including More Than Real, a daughter of More Than Ready, owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
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On Sunday, Woodbine features three graded turf stakes, the Canadian (C-G2), the Northern Dancer (C-G1), and the Woodbine Mile (C-G1). The Canadian is a nine furlong test for fillies and mares and has drawn a field six, where probable favoritism will go to Points of Grace, who finished fourth in this race last year. Trained by Malcolm Pierce, Points of Grace posted a five-for-nine campaign in 2009 to earn a Sovereign Award as Canada's top turf female. Her only win thus far this season came in impressive style over allowance foes in August. Roger Attfield's entrant here is Miss Keller, who beat Points of Grace in Woodbine's Nassau Stakes back in June. Miss Keller then shipped to Saratoga and captured the De La Rose before finishing third in the G2 Ballston Spa.

Marsh Side will be back to defend his title in the Northern Dancer. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Marsh Side comes off a five-length romp in the Sky Classic (C-G2) which was run over this course Aug. 22. Also entered in this 1 ½ mile contest is Windward Islands, who finished second in the Sky Classic, Elkhorn (G2) winner Spice Route, Juddmonte Farm's Redwood, and Expansion, hoping to improve off his fifth-place finish as the favorite in Saratoga's G1 Sword Dancer last month.

The marquee race Sunday is the Woodbine Mile, and has attracted a diverse cast of 13 competitors, led by The Usual Q.T., who exits a fifth-place finish in Del Mar's Pacific Classic. The Jim Cassidy trainee bloomed in the latter half of '09, capturing six straight races from August to December. This year his biggest win came in the G1 Eddie Read, beating Victor's Cry, who is also entered here. Trained by Eoin Harty, Victor's Cry won the G1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park. Another shipper from California is Crowded House, fourth in the Eddie Read, and runner-up in the Pacific Classic. From New York, Rick Dutrow brings Court Vision, who hasn't raced since finishing sixth in the G1 Manhattan Handicap in early June. Previous to that, he was second in two Grade 1 races and first, through disqualification, in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, also Grade 1. Dermot Weld will bring in Juddmonte's homebred Famous Name, sixth-place finisher in the Irish Champions, and locally-based Smokey Fire and Grand Adventure will take their shot in the Mile.

Meanwhile, Belmont presents the G1 Garden City on Saturday and the G3 Noble Damsel on Sunday. The Garden City is for 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite, Virginia Oaks winner Check the Label is seeking her fourth consecutive graded stakes win. The Graham Motion-trained daughter of Stormin Fever was bought privately by Roy and Gretchen Jackson from Brereton Jones, her owner/breeder, after the Virginia Oaks. Check the Label faces the likes of Negligee, a Grade 1 winner at 2, and two from Tom Proctor's barn, the front-running Queen of the Creek, and the late-running Snow Top Mountain.

The Noble Damsel has eight expected starters of fillies and mares to go a mile on grass. Quiet Meadow, whose most recent start, a half-length loss in the G3 Matchmaker at Monmouth on Aug. 1, will be the probable favorite. Quiet Meadow missed by the slimmest of margins in this race last year, will not have to face the likes of Rutherienne, but does have some formidable competition in Scolera, Strike the Bell and Meriwether Jessica.

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