The starting gate for the $250,000 Natalma Stakes (Can-IIT) on the Woodbine lawn Sept. 15 will be packed with promising 2-year-old fillies, 14 in all, with an automatic Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) berth at stake.
The one-turn mile turf event shares the spotlight with the $250,000 Summer Stakes Presented by TVG (Can-IIT) for males, also at one mile. Both are Breeders' Cup "Win & You're In" challenge races. The Natalma, race 6 on the program, is set for a 3:45 p.m. EDT post, with the Summer three races later.
Eight of the 14 fillies that made the main body of the Natalma field (there is one also-eligible) have had just one start. None have beaten winners. And four are maidens.
But as is often the case with Woodbine baby races, a good place to start is with trainer Mark Casse, looking for his fourth Natalma win in the past seven years. He won last year's race with John Oxley's Northern Passion.
Casse and Oxley are back again with Spring in the Air, a daughter of Spring At Last making her turf debut. Spring in the Air, a $130,000 OBS buy in March, debuted July 15 on Polytrack with a runner-up finish as the favorite in the 5 1/2-furlong Shady Well. She returned as an odds-on choice in a six-furlong Polytrack race for maiden special weights and demolished her five rivals by more than 10 lengths. Garrett Gomez has the call.
Casse also entered Stoneway Farm home bred Spring Venture, owned in partnership with Gary Barber. Another offspring of Spring At Last, Spring Venture romped by 4 1/4 lengths in her debut at seven furlongs on the Woodbine lawn Aug. 18. Patrick Husbands retains the mount.
Also deserving of special consideration is Repole Stable's Coconut Shrimp, trained by Todd Pletcher. The Giant's Causeway filly's only start to date produced a front-running victory as the favorite in an $80,000 maiden special weight going 5 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 13. Coconut Shrimp, bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky, brought $170,000 at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale.
Pletcher's only prior Natalma win came in 1998 with Pico Teneriffe.
The field includes maiden Nancy O, the first foal out of 2006 Canadian Horse of the year Arravale. The Irish-bred filly is trained by Carolyn Costigan, whose father owned the multiple grade stakes winning Arravale and bred her daughter. Nancy O was up the track to Spring Venture in her debut but returned to run a strong second against allowance rivals Aug. 25.
Another maiden, Bruce Lunsford's homebred Carmel Beauty, is a full sister to Arravale. By Arch out of the French Kaldoun mare Kalosca, Carmel Beauty has had one start, finishing third behind Natalma rival Rutherford Rd going seven furlongs Aug. 24.
The latter was making her turf debut for trainer Michael Doyle and Windhaven Farms following three unsuccessful attempts on Polytrack this spring.
Best Beyer speed figure in the field goes to Tiz Ro, who earned a 77 in her debut at Woodbine July 27, an off-the-turf maiden allowance she won by 5 1/2 lengths at six furlongs. That is the only start so far for the $130,000 daughter of Hard Spun trained by Greg De Gannes for Raroma Stable.
Summer of Fun registered a 76 Beyer breaking her maiden in her second start for trainer George Weaver, an $85,000 event at 1 1/16 miles on firm Saratoga going. The daughter of Include , owned by Bona Venture Stables, tallied at odds of 11-1.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Kitten's Dumplings graduated at first asking on a yielding Saratoga turf course, also at 1 1/16 miles, by two lengths for trainer Mike Maker Aug. 12.
Incredible Journey, a homebred for Gary and Mary West trained by Wayne Catalano, won in her debut at one mile July 27 at Arlington Park.
$250,000 Natalma Stakes (gr. II, Race 6, 3:45 p.m.), 2YO Fillies, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Summer of Fun (KY), R Maragh, G Weaver
2. Incredible Journey (KY), J M Campbell, W M Catalano
3. Shenandoah Lady (VA), E R Da Silva, S Attard
4. Rutherford Rd (ON), J V Bridgmohan, M J Doyle
5. Dancing for Glory (KY), E Wilson, C C Brown
6. Nancy O (IRE), D Moran, C M Costigan
7. Spring Venture (KY), P Husbands, M E Casse
8. Spring in the Air (ON), G K Gomez, M E Casse
9. Kitten's Dumplings (KY), R Napravnik, M J Maker
10. Bwana Go Fast (FL), E Ramsammy, N Squires
11. Coconut Shrimp (KY), J Castellano, T A Pletcher
12. Tiz Ro (ON), L Contreras, G de Gannes
13. Sure Would (ON), J Stein, M Keogh
14. Carmel Beauty (KY), A O Solis, B J Minshall
15. Fearless Jacq (IRE), R Maragh, D Simcock
All carry 119 pounds.