Two fillies from leading Woodbine trainer Mark Casse's stable are among the favorites in the $250,000 Bison City Stakes July 1, the second jewel of Canada's triple tiara for 3-year-old fillies at the Toronto oval.
Cass won the Bison City in 2006 with Kimchi and the following year with Sealy Hill. This year, the top conditioner sends out Woodbine Oaks runner-up Northern Passion and fast-improving Black Bird Rock, who gave way in the final furlong of the Oaks to finish fourth after setting a moderate pace.
Irish Mission, winner of the June 2 Woodbine Oaks, will not compete after running second to Strait of Dover in the Queen's Plate June 24 against males. Another filly from the Oaks, the Casse-trained fifth-place finisher Dixie Strike, was third in the Queen's Plate, indicating the quality of this year's Oaks.
Other main contenders in the 1 1/16-mile Polytrack event are Awesome Fire, third in the Oaks, and Alywow Stakes runner-up Blue Heart. A field of six Canadian-foaled fillies was entered for the Bison Bay, the sixth race on the Sunday program with a 3:45 p.m. EDT post.
Owned by John Oxley, Northern Passion is a three-time winner from eight starts. She was three-quarters of a length behind Irish Mission in the Oaks after capturing the Fury Stakes April 29. The daughter of First Samurai will be ridden again by Luis Contreras, who won the 2011 Bison Bay aboard Bear It's Time. They are 7-5 on the morning line.
Last year, the chestnut took the Natalma Stakes (Can-IIIT) on turf, her first added-money score, which preceded a seventh in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
Eugene Melnyk's homebred Black Bird Rock, a daughter of Flower Alley , ran a big race in the Oaks in just her third start, beaten by 2 1/4 lengths. She broke her maiden in her previous try April 28. Patrick Husbands, who rode both of Casse's earlier Bison City winners, has the call. They are pegged at 6-1.
Black Bird Rocks races without blinkers for the first time.
Awesome Fire was in position to win the Oaks in the stretch after rallying from sixth at 35-1 odds. But she did not have the finishing kick to stay with Irish Mission and was defeated by three-quarters of a length. Urban Fire's daughter of Strong Contender, 5-2 on the morning line for trainer Nicholas Gonzalez, is seeking her first stakes victory. The chestnut will have Emma-Jayne Wilson, winner of the 2010 Bison City with Free Fee Lady, back aboard. They are 5-2.
The 3-1 third choice is Amerman Racing's Blue Heart, who made her seasonal debut in the June 3 Alywow at 6 1/2 furlongs for trainer Brian Lynch and was narrowly beaten by a neck by Dene Court. The gray Exchange Rate filly won last year's Mazarine Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
Casa Loma (8-1), second in the Star Shoot and third in the Fury in her two starts this year for trainer Robert Tiller, and the Sid Attard-conditioned maiden Simple as That (20-1), complete the field.
$250,000 Bison City Stakes (Race 6, 3:45 p.m. EDT), 3 YO Fillies Foaled in Canada, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Awesome Fire (ON), E Wilson, N Gonzalez, 5/2
2. Northern Passion (ON), L Contreras, M E Casse, 7/5
3. Blue Heart (ON), A O Solis, B A Lynch, 3/1
4. Casa Loma (ON), S R Bahen, R P Tiller, 8/1
5. Simple as That (ON), J M Campbell, S C Attard, 20/1
6. Black Bird Rock (ON), P Husbands, M E Casse, 6/1
All carry 121 pounds.
Blinkers Off: Black Bird Rock