Marsh Side, a career winner of more than $2.1 million at Woodbine, returns to his favorite layout to defend his title in the $750,000 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes - Presented by Vtech (Can-IT) Sept. 19 against eight rivals.
Coming off a romping five-length win as the 3-5 choice over a soft Woodbine course Aug. 22 in the Sky Classic Stakes (Can-IIT), Robert S. Evans' 7-year-old homebred will face a strong lineup in the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer. The race is one of three major grass stakes on the Toronto track's Woodbine Mile program. It will go as the eighth event with a 4:34 p.m. EDT post.
In addition to Windward Islands, who finished second in the Sky Classic, the Neil Drysdale-trained Marsh Side will face grade II winner Spice Route, Juddmonte Farm's group III British victor Redwood in his U.S. debut, and Expansion, looking to rebound after a rough fifth-place effort as the favorite in Saratoga's Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. IT) last month. The field also includes Perfect Shower and Guipago, who ran first and second, respectively, in the 2009 Breeders' Stakes, the final jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown.
But Marsh Side, who also captured the 2008 Pattison Canadian International (Can-IT), figures to be tough to handle on the front end, especially if he gets a little cut in the ground. Even without it, the son of Gone West led through most of the journey in last year's Northern Dancer, managing to hold off Just As Well for a half-length win.
With Edgar Prado aboard in the 10-furlong Sky Classic, Marsh Side was ridden out to victory after stalking the pace early, taking the lead into the stretch, and widening his advantage. Prado is back and they will break from the rail with co-highweight of 121 pounds. The dark bay horse brings a 7-3-1 mark in 29 starts into the race with earnings of about $2.5 million.
Sam-Son Farms' Windward Islands advanced between horses in upper stretch of the Sky Classic but was no match for Marsh Side down the lane, settling for the runner-up spot. Windward Islands won the Nijinsky II Stakes (Can-IIT) in his first start in more than 13 months four weeks earlier. Trainer Mark Frostad feels the added distance will help this time.
"Yes, I think a mile and three-eighths would be better but a mile and a half, I think he'll get the mile and a half," Frostad said Sept. 14. "He'll relax . I don't see a problem with a mile and a half."
Frostad said the 6-year-old Cozzene gelding surprised him with his 3 1/2-length win off the bench in the July 24 Nijinksy, which came over yielding turf.
"He's had lots of nagging problems," he said. "I mean, he hasn't been the soundest of horses. But he loves to compete. And, you know, he's been sound this year and he's good right now. So we'd entered him in the allowance race for that day and unfortunately it didn't go so we inched him into the stakes because we needed to get a race into him and then heavy rain came along and certainly helped him."
Windward Islands will also carry 121, an advantageous six-pound switch with Marsh Side from the Sky Classic, and retains the services of Chantal Sutherland. They break from post 2.
British-bred Spice Island won his only race of 2010 for trainer Roger Attfield, taking the Singspiel Stakes (Can-IIIT) in convincing fashion by 3 3/4 lengths July 4. Mike Smith rode the 6-year-old that day and the Hall of Fame rider is in from California to take the reins once more. Spice Island, with six wins in 26 lifetime starts including a two-length victory in Keeneland's 2009 Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIT), is closing in on $1 million in earnings for owner Harlequin Ranches and partners.
Attfield is also represented by Charles Fipke's homebred Perfect Shower, who pulled off a 46-1 shocker in last year's Breeders'. Perfect Shower ran fourth as the 11-10 choice in the Stars and Stripes Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park Aug. 21.
Redwood, trained in England by Barry Hills, is coming off a close second in the Grand Prix de Deauville (Fr-II) at 1 9/16 miles Aug. 29. The 4-year-old son of High Chaparral won a group III at Goodwood at 12 furlongs prior to that. He has captured three of nine starts in Europe with three seconds.
Expansion had a bumpy trip in the Sword Dancer Aug. 14 and gave way late to be beaten four lengths by the upsetter Telling at Saratoga. The 5-year-old son of Maria's Mon posted back-to-back third-place finishes in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) and Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT), both at Belmont Park, earlier this summer.
Steve Asmussen now trains Expansion, winner of the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct last fall, for new owners Millennium Farms and Mike McCarty. Garrett Gomez gets the call.
Butterfly Stable's Memorial Maniac scored an upset in Arlington's 1 5/8-mile Stars and Stripes last time for trainer Larry Demeritte. Fifty Proof, who has won four of his past six starts with two seconds for trainer Ian Black, makes his stakes bow. The 4-year-old Whiskey Wisdom gelding looms the main speed threat to Marsh Side.
$750,000 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes - Presented by Vtech (Can-IT, Race 8, 4:34 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Marsh Side (KY), E S Prado, 121, N D Drysdale
2. Windward Islands (KY), C Sutherland, 121, M R Frostad
3. Expansion (KY), G K Gomez, 119, S M Asmussen
4. Memorial Maniac (KY), J Graham, 119, L W Demeritte
5. Redwood (GB), M P Hills, 119, B W Hills
6. Fifty Proof (ON), J Stein, 117, I Black
7. Perfect Shower (ON), J Castellano, 117, R L Attfield
8. Spice Route (GB), M E Smith, 119, R L Attfield
9. Guipago (ON), J Rosario, 117, A M Delmas