Around the Mark Casse barn, Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly (gr. I) contender Spring in the Air is known as the "Little Zenyatta."
Fans at Clockers' Corner at Santa Anita Park Oct. 31 got a little taste of why as she exited the track after a good gallop. John Oxley's daughter of leading freshman sire Spring At Last broke into her Zenyatta dressage-like prance, tapping one front hoof in front of the other, then switching to the other leg. She usually does it for the spectators in the paddock or post parade prior to her races.
"That's what her jockey, Patrick Husbands, started calling her, 'his Little Zenyatta,'" the Woodbine-based conditioner said back at Barn 25, where Spring in the Air is stabled as she awaits her big date against Executiveprivilege and six others in the $2 million Juvenile Filly Nov. 2.
"I'm not sure why she does it," he said. "sometimes it's one leg, sometimes it's two. It's nothing we taught her to do. She got a lot of cheers at Churchill Downs (where she was training before shipping to Southern California). People were calling out to her, 'Zenyatta, Zenyatta.'
"I don't think there's a better horse for her to emulate," he added in reference to the 2010 Horse of the Year and winner of 19 of 20 races.
A long, light-framed bay filly, Spring in the Air may not look much like Zenyatta. But like her famous counterpart who performed brilliantly on synthetic tracks, she'll have to show her ability on dirt for the first time in order to succeed Friday.
Spring in the Air, 15-1 on the morning line, schooled in the paddock Oct. 31 following her gallop.
Bred in Ontario by WinStar Farm, she has raced on synthetic tracks in three of her four starts and once on grass. Spring in the Air is coming off the biggest effort of her career, winning the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) on the Keeneland Polytrack Oct. 5 by one length. Interestingly, Casse said, she did not prance before that race.
Spring in the Air put in two five-furlong breezes since her Keeneland win at Churchil Downs, where she last worked Oct. 26. Casse said the Churchill main track was extremely deep but that the filly handled it well. Since arriving at Santa Anita Oct. 28, she's been bounding over the tighter Santa Anita surface, he said, making him optimistic about her chances.
"You couldn't ask her to be doing any better than she is right now," Casse said of Spring of the Air, who used a big turn of foot to rally from 10th after a half mile in the Alibiades.
A fast pace is expected with the precocious fillies Beholder and Kauai Katie bookending the eight-horse field. The slight morning line favorite, Executiveprivilege, and Frizette Stakes (gr. I) winner Dreaming of Julia are likely to be pushing the leaders.
"If we get the pace we're expecting, I'd be pretty disappointed if we aren't right there," Casse said. "And that's a pretty confident statement coming from me."
Casse said he's quite familiar with Executiveprivliege, for whom he bid $500,000 on behalf of Oxley in the Ocala Breeder Sales Co.'s 2-year-olds in training sale in March. She topped the sale at $650,000 to Bob Baffert and owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman.
"They went right past us," Casse said.
Casse, who began buying horses for Oxley in the past couple of years, paid $130,000 for Spring in the Air at Ocala in March. She ran second in her debut at Woodbine in the Shady Wells Stakes July 15, then graduated against straight maidens with a 10 1/4-length romp three weeks later. She tried the turf in her next start, losing by 1 3/4 lengths while second to stablemate Spring Venture, another daughter of Spring At Last, in the one-mile Natalma Stakes (Can-IIT) on yielding gound Sept. 15.
"Spring in the Air, she had a little bit of a rough trip in that race," Casse said. "Otherwise I'd say the two are pretty even."
He added: "Spring in the Air and Spring Venture, even I get the two confused. She's the bay and other is a chestnut. But actually, Spring Venture is so mean and such a handful that we all know which one she is. They couldn't be more opposite. Spring in the Air is really sweet and nice to be around."