Trainer Mark Casse won the $250,000 Natalma Stakes (gr. IIT) for the fourth time in the past seven years when his fillies Spring Venture and Spring in the Air ran first and second in the one-mile turf event at Woodbine Sept. 15 (VIDEO).
The winning chestnut daughter of Spring At Last emerged from the pack past mid-stretch as the 2-1 favorite and burst away from her 13 juvenile filly rivals to win comfortably by 1 3/4 lengths for jockey Patrick Husbands. The winning time for the one-turn race was 1:37.27 over yielding ground.
Spring Venture, owned by her breeder, Stoneway Farm, in partnership with Gary Barber, was an impressive first-out winner over maidens at seven furlongs over the course Aug. 18. The winner, purchased for $320,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. 2012 2-year-olds and horses of racing ages sale, is out of the graded stakes-placed Rahy mare Zahwah.
The Natalma, a "Win & You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge race, guarantees a starting berth for Spring Venture in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. The Natalma has produced the past two winners of the Juvenile Fillies Turf: More Than Real, who was second in the 2010 Natalma, and Stephanie's Kitten, third in last year's Natalma.
Spring in the Air, another Spring At Last filly, was caught in traffic in the lane but closed willingly for second with Garrett Gomez aboard. Maiden Nancy O, the first foal out of 2006 Canadian Horse of the Year Arravale, got up from between horses for Dan Moran in the final strides for third.
Casse won last year's Natalma with Northern Passion and also won the race in 2007 with Clearly Foxy and in 2006 with Sprung. Casse was in Kentucky for the Keeneland September yearling sale. Assistant trainer Kathryn Sullivan was pleased with the effort of both her fillies in completing a Casse-conditioned exactor.
"I was so excited," said Sullivan. "I didn't see the other filly (Spring in the Air) coming. I was just focusing on (Spring Venture). That's the really best case scenario, when you run two horses in a stake and they're first and second."
Shenandoah Lady, an 80-1 shot, outfought Coconut Shrimp for the early lead and led her pace rival narrowly through quarter-mile fractions of :23.37 and :47.40, and 1:13.06. Coconut Shrimp took over leaving the turn and took the field to mid-stretch under pressure as the leaders spread out across the track.
It looked like anyone's race down the lane before Spring Venture poked her head in front and quickly took command by a couple of lengths. Spring in the Air, making her turf debut for Casse, closed well on the outside after getting clear and was cutting into the advantage slightly as Spring Venture raced under restraint to the line by Husbands. The Irish-bred Nancy O was just a neck farther back while game in third.
"By the time we leave there, my filly wanted to lead," said Husbands of his trip aboard the winner. "I was taking a good hold of her. She showed me that she wasn't scared. So I finally got her back off (the speed) and she relaxed good."
Spring Venture earned $154,305 for the victory and has now banked $188,217 in her career. In her debut last month, she rallied wide after being bumped at the start and got the lead at mid-stretch en route to a handy 4 1/4-length victory in a field of 12.
Under equal weights of 119 pounds, the winner paid $6.90, $4.60, $3.80. Spring in the Air returned $8.80 and $6.40. The all-Casse exacta was worth $66. Nancy 0 was $9.90 to show.
Kitten's Dumplings, a debut maiden winner on a yielding Saratoga turf Aug. 12, finished a neck behind Nancy O in fourth, with Coconut Shrimp another neck behind in fifth. They were followed by Shenandoah Lady, Carmel Beauty, Tiz Ro, Dancing for Glory, Summer of Fun, Rutherford Rd, Fearless Jacq, Sure Would, and Bwana Go Fast. Incredible Journey was a stewards' scratch.