Defending winner Heavenly Landing takes on nine older fillies and mares Jan. 5 in the $100,000 Marshua's River Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park, including Team Block's highly consistent Leading Astray.
The 1 1/16-mile turf test is scheduled as race 10 on an 11-race card with an approximate post time of 5:05 p.m. EST. Leading Astray and Heavenly Landing share the highweight assignment of 121 pounds.
Heavenly Landing won a hard-fought nose decision in the Marshua's River last year for Lally Stable and trainer Eddie Kenneally, with jockey Corey Lanerie flying in from New Orleans for the mount. Lanerie, based at Gulfstream this winter, will be aboard once again as Heavenly Landing breaks from post 5.
A 6-year-old daughter of Pulpit, Heavenly Landing showed promise on the main track early in her career, but found her best stride on turf winning the Marshua's River after turf allowance victories at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. She makes her first start since winning an Oct. 5 turf allowance at Keeneland, which followed runner-up finishes in the Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill and in the Eatontown Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park, and a fifth in the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course.
Jockey Jose Lezcano gets the call on newly turned 4-year-old Leading Astray for trainer Chris Block as she makes her first start since a game second in the Nov. 17 Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) against sophomore fillies at Churchill. The Illinois homebred daughter of Belong to Me scored her biggest victory in the Pucker Up Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park in mid-September and, having never finished off the board, brings an 8-5-2-1 record into her season debut.
"She's been doing real well," said Block, who has done well himself at Gulfstream in recent seasons with a small but select string of high-class runners including 2011 Donn Handicap (gr. I) winner Giant Oak
and turf stakes mares Askbut I Won'ttell
and Never Retreat
"She had a good year last year," Block continued. "She's had a series of works here, and I think she's doing as well as she can be going into this race on Saturday."
Another contender with a stakes victory over the course is Stride Rite Racing's 4-year-old homebred Frolic's Revenge
, trained by Milton Wolfson. The daughter of Vindication
won the Ginger Brew Stakes in late 2011 before finishing third in the Sweetest Chant behind emerging star Dayatthespa
in January. She makes her first start since a Nov. 25 allowance victory on turf at Calder Race Course & Casino
and will be ridden by Luis Saez. Regular rider Paco Lopez is committed to ride Vegas No Show
in the Jerome Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack
the same day for trainer Kelly Breen.
"My only concern is that I lose Paco to ride in New York that day, but I pick up Saez, who is having a great meet," Wolfson remarked. "She's training great right now and we're looking forward to the race. She has run well on turf and dirt, but I'm not sure she likes the main track over there after she didn't run very well (seventh) in the Davona Dale last year."
Making her first start since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) is Hillsbrook Farm's 4-year-old Hard Not to Like
as she makes her first outing for trainer Michael Matz.
A daughter of Hard Spun
, Hard Not to Like was developed in Canada as a 2-year-old in 2011 by trainer Gail Cox. She beat colts in the Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine
for Ontario-breds and finished a good fifth behind Stephanie's Kitten
in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IIT) at Churchill, beaten three lengths for it all. In her only start of 2012 beside the Oaks, she was the runner-up by three-quarters of a length in Keeneland's Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. I).
Another contender in a wide-open field will be Isabel Peter Hoblyn's 5-year-old Irish-bred Chokurei
, who could be sitting on her first U.S. win for trainer Mark Frostad. The daughter of Bertolini
just missed last out, finishing second by a neck behind favorite Romacaca
in the Dec. 9 South Beach Stakes going 7 1/2 furlongs. Chokurei won four of 10 starts in Ireland prior to placing in three stakes last year at Woodbine for Frostad.
$100,000 Marshua's River Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 10, approximate post 5:05 p.m. ET), fillies & mares 4YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (turf, rail at 96 feet)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Leading Astray (IL), J. Lezcano, 121, C M Block
2. Chokurei (IRE), J. Bravo, 117, M R Frostad
3. Frolic's Revenge (KY), L. Saez, 117, M W Wolfson
4. Affair Dabbler (KY), J Z Santana, 117, D C Kassen
5. Heavenly Landing (KY), C.J. Lanerie, 121, E Kenneally
6. Channel Lady (KY), J. Castellano, 119, T A Pletcher
7. Frontside (PA), J. Rosario, 119, E Caramori
8. Filare L'Oro (KY), A. Garcia, 119, M V Pino
9. Hard Not to Like (ON), J. Rocco, Jr., 117, M R Matz
10. Fantasy of Flight (KY), J.R. Velazquez, 117, R E Dutrow, Jr.