The more, the merrier could be the mantra of trainer Mark Casse when it comes to racing at Woodbine.
Take, for example, Sunday’s $400,000 Summer Stakes, a Grade 1 for two-year-olds in which Casse will field four of the nine entrants in the one-mile turf race.
The Summer is also a Breeders’ Cup Challenge event with an all-fees berth in Del Mar’s 1 1/16 mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on November 5 earmarked for the winner.
In the Grade 1 Natalma, Casse also sends out four starters for a total of 8 starters of the 19 total in the two races.
In the Summer, Casse will send out First Empire, Souper Legacy, Luckman, and Grafton Street in quest of present and perhaps future glory.
First Empire is the most prominent member of the quartet, having followed up on a rather disappointing debut here on the main track with back-to-back turf scores including the 6 ½-furlong Soaring Free, a race which Gretzky the Great had also used as a successful Summer stepping-stone.
“His last race ended up being very good,” said Casse. “He’s doing everything right, he definitely loves the turf, and he’s coming into this race good, whereas this is a little tougher task. But, I don’t see the mile being an issue.”
Patrick Husbands, in the irons for First Empire’s turf scores, retains the mount.
Souper Legacy is 1-for-1, having captured an off-the-turf maiden race over seven furlongs, while Luckman ran second when debuting in a split of that race on the August 29 card.
“I thought his first race was good,” said Casse, of Souper Legacy. “We definitely think he’s a little better on the grass.”
Antonio Gallardo replaces Husbands on the gelding.
Luckman, also ridden by Husbands in his opener, will have Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard this time.
“We were hoping to give both those horses a race over the turf but he’s another horse who should move up on the grass,” said Casse, who does not anticipate the mile being a problem for either runner.
Grafton Street has not seen action since May 29 when he debuted with a third-place finish in a race scheduled for turf but contested over five furlongs of sloppy going at Belmont.
“He’s by War Front, and he’s kind of my version of War of Will this year,” said Casse, who sent out that son of the Danzig sire to finish second in the 2018 Summer and then go on to achieve Grade 1 heroics in the Preakness and later the Maker’s Mark Mile on Keeneland’s turf course. “I’ve kind of always thought he was one of our better colts.
“The race came off the grass at Belmont, he ran, and that was hard on him. It took him a while to bounce back.”
Getting back down to business at Saratoga, Grafton Street recorded a bullet turf breeze on August 13.
“It was phenomenal,” said Casse. “Then I shipped him to Woodbine, to get a race on the grass, and it came off so I scratched him. But he’s trained very, very well.”
Rafael Hernandez gets the call.
In addition to Gretzky the Great, Casse took down three consecutive Summer Stakes beginning in 2013 with My Conquestadory and continuing with Conquest Typhoon and Conquest Daddyo.
Albahr, based in England with trainer Charlie Appleby, has shipped in for the Summer with some interesting credentials.
After ending a troubled third in his debut the English-bred gelding has rattled off three straight wins, the first two at seven furlongs and the most recent over one mile of “good” going at Salisbury.
“He’s done little wrong this year,” said travelling head lad Chris Durham. “He won a listed race in Salisbury, probably not on the ground you’d want. It rained, and it got a bit of water on it. The ground wouldn’t have been in his favour, and he still won. Charlie’s really happy with him. This has been his plan.”
Albahr will be looking to become the first European shipper to win the Summer in very limited representations. Vitalogy, trained in Ireland by Joseph O’Brien, finished third in the race in 2019.
The presence of Frankie Dettori in the irons will add to the Godolphin homebred’s allure.
Invading from south of the Canadian border will be Dripping Gold and Degree of Risk.
Dripping Gold, trained by Shug McGaughey, was an impressive winner of his only start at Saratoga, a 1 1/16 mile race over firm turf. Joel Rosario picks up the mount.
Degree of Risk, based at Arlington with conditioner Eoin Harty, returns to Woodbine after finishing second in the Soaring Free. The Godolphin homebred again will have locally-based Justin Stein in the irons.
Rounding out the lineup will be Ready for the Lady and Heat Merchant.
Ready for the Lady, conditioned by Roger Attfield, ran second to Souper Legacy on the Tapeta surface in his only appearance.
Heat Merchant, trained by Ralph Biamonte, also will be making his turf debut after graduating over six furlongs in his third outing.
$400,000 Summer Stakes (Grade 1)
Post – Horse – Jockey – Trainer
1 – Dripping Gold – Joel Rosario – Shug McGaughey
2 – Luckman – Emma-Jayne Wilson – Mark Casse
3 – Grafton Street – Rafael Hernandez – Mark Casse
4 – Albahr – Frankie Dettori – Charles Appleby
5 – Heat Merchant – Gary Boulanger – Ralph Biamonte
6 – Degree of Risk – Justin Stein – Eoin Harty
7 – Souper Legacy – Antonio Gallardo – Mark Casse
8 – First Empire – Patrick Husbands – Mark Casse
9 – Ready for the Lady – Keveh Nicholls – Roger Attfield
Bobby Flay hoping Pizza Bianca can add Grade 1 Natalma Stakes to her pedigree
The chance to add a Grade 1 victory to Pizza Bianca’s pedigree page has her sole owner and breeder, celebrity chef Bobby Flay, making plans to be at Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday (September 19) for the $400,000 Natalma Stakes, a one-mile turf race for two-year-old fillies.
“The owner is planning on being there and we’re all excited,” said Pizza Bianca’s trainer Christophe Clement. “For an owner/breeder the black type is a big deal for him and the Grade 1 is also a big deal for him because it’s more than just one race, it’s a long-term plan.”
The winner receives a ticket to the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Fillies Juvenile Turf on November 5 at Del Mar, thanks to the Natalma being part of the Cup’s “Win and You’re In” series. Clement said that is a great bonus, but “the real attraction is it being a Grade 1. A filly with a Grade 1 is a huge deal.”
Pizza Bianca is a daughter of Fastnet Rock (AUS) out of White Hot (IRE) by Galileo (IRE). Her lone career start was a dominant victory in a $100,000 maiden special weight on July 22 on the inner turf at Saratoga with Joel Rosario riding.
“It was her first time out and she’s still learning, but I was happy with the way she behaved the first time out and I was happy with the way she finished and Rosario was very positive about it, so it’s exciting,” said Clement, who is looking for his first Natalma victory. “She’s very honest. She’s been very straight forward since Day One… She’s training well. We don’t know exactly how good she is, but let’s give it a shot. It’s a very open kind of a race and we’ve got a great jock Rosario who knows her and he rode her first time out.”
Meanwhile, trainer Roger Attfield, who won the 2020 Natalma with Lady Speightspeare, is hoping to repeat with her half-sister Ready Lady for her lone owner and breeder Charles Fipke.
“[Ready Lady] is much easier than her half-sister. [Lady Speightspeare] is very tough,” Attfield said. “[Ready Lady] is all class, actually. She’s just a lovely filly to be around and as of this moment she’s very easy to train. She’s just a charm to have.”
Like Pizza Bianca, Ready Lady has had just one career start, a half-length victory on August 28 in a $126,800 maiden special weight on the turf at Woodbine.
“It was an encouraging race, I thought,” Attfield said. “She’s trained very well since then and we thought if she did we’d give her a chance like we did for her half-sister at this point last year. It’s the same type of timing.”
Lady Speightspeare, a daughter of Speightstown out of Lady Shakespeare, won the 2020 Natalma with Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard en route to a perfect 3-for-3 season and the Sovereign Award for Canada’s champion 2-year-old filly of the year.
Wilson will also ride Ready Lady, who is a daughter of More Than Ready.
“It’s an interesting family because I’ve got so much of it,” Attfield said. “In fact, the maiden colt that I’m running in the Summer Stakes [Ready for the Lady] is related. The colt is out of a daughter of Lady Shakespeare [Perfect Lady] by Perfect Soul, which is her family, too. It’s a big family thing.”
Attfield, a three-time Natalma winner, said the race could be an important step in Ready Lady’s career.
“It’s a progression and it’s a very prestigious race,” he said. “It’s a Grade 1 and she’s a class filly with a big pedigree. It just happens that we’ve only had the one race into her, but it’s just the timing of the year. She was late getting started… We’ve arrived at this point and she’s well and healthy and I thought she won a very creditable race and I think she will move up off that race.”
The Natalma field also includes Wild Beauty (GB), who has a record of 2-2-0 in five starts racing in England for owner/breeder Godolphin. “She’s a little fighter, really. She ran well last time out,” said Chris Durham, who works for trainer Charles Appleby. “She’s done well. She’s settled in here really well. We’re happy.”
The Natalma Stakes is scheduled as the race eight on Sunday while the companion Grade 1 Summer Stakes is the ninth race. Both Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races will be broadcast live on TSN5 from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.
First race post time on Sunday is set for 1:10 p.m. Fans can wager on all the action via HPIbet.com.
$400,000 Natalma Stakes (Grade 1)
Post – Horse – Jockey – Trainer
1 – Ready Lady – Emma-Jayne Wilson – Roger Attfield
2 – Pizza Bianca – Joel Rosario – Christophe Clement
3 – Guileful – Simon Husbands – Nathan Squires
4 – Royal Engagement – Colby Hernandez – Timothy Hamm
5 – Wild Beauty – Frankie Dettori – Charles Appleby
6 – Baksheesh – Kazushi Kimura – Mark Casse
7 – Diabolic – Antonio Gallardo – Mark Casse
8 – Mrs. Barbara – Rafael Hernandez – Mark Casse
9 – Cardio Princess – Justin Stein – Mark Casse
10 – Eminent Victor –Flavien Prat – Chad Brown