11/01/2012 9:50PM

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf: Sky Lantern gives Europe hope of breaking through

Michael Burns
The Canadian filly Spring Venture is undefeated in three starts coming into the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

ARCADIA, Ca. - Since 2008, when the Breeders’ Cup program expanded to include a pair of turf races for 2-year-olds, European-based horses have won 11 of 24 Breeders’ Cup races contested on grass. That’s a robust rate, but one race United States-based horses have ruled is the Juvenile Fillies Turf, in which Americans have gone 4 for 4. 

That streak is in jeopardy. Ireland-bred, England-based Sky Lantern is quite possibly the best international entrant to come for the Juvenile Fillies Turf, while Canada-based Spring Venture has won all three starts in her career, looking especially dominant in two grass races.

Those two are among 14 2-year-olds in the main body of the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, a one-mile grass race with a relatively short run into the first bend on the close-cut, tight-turned, fast-playing Santa Anita grass course. Infanta Branca and Moulin de Mougin are stuck on the also-eligible list and require scratches to start.

Sky Lantern, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, has won 3 of her 5 races and finished second in her two losses, most recently capturing the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes (a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race) by beating 12 foes at The Curragh in Ireland. Her form looks good on paper, and Sky Lantern, a beautiful gray filly, looked especially sharp out on the Santa Anita track for the first time Tuesday. Moreover, her connections think a lively American-style turf course will suit their horse, and trainer Richard Hannon has taken care to educate Sky Lantern in the practice of turning left at a fast clip. Sky Lantern traveled to the left-handed track at Kempton for a major workout last week.

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“She worked fine and she stayed on the right leg all the way around,” said assistant trainer Richard Hannon Jr. “She seemed to feel good, and she gallops left-handed regularly anyway.”

Sky Lantern’s Moyglare Stud win, which Hannon Jr. called “by far her best run,” did come over a group slightly shaky for the Group 1 level, though the race’s third-place finisher did return to win a Group 3, and a well-beaten Aidan O’Brien runner, Snow Queen, has subsequently been first and second.

Spring Venture has started her career with three wins, two in Canadian graded stakes, despite regularly displays of challenging behavior.

“She’ll rear up on her back legs, she’ll kick. She’ll try to take your head off if you don’t watch her,” Mark Casse said in a tone more lighthearted than grave. “Let’s just say she’s full of life.”

Spring Venture worked so fast at a breeze-up auction that she fetched a purchase price of $320,000 earlier this year, a mighty number for a daughter of unproven sire Spring at Last. But Spring Venture is all runner. She won her debut at seven furlongs on Woodbine turf by more than four lengths despite breaking 11th of 12, and took the Grade 2 Natalma there Sept. 15 with a brief, brilliant burst of speed under jockey Patrick Husbands, who has the mount back Friday.

“Patrick only let her run about 100 yards,” Casse said.

Spring Venture won the Mazarine Stakes on Polytrack in her most recent race in less impressive fashion, but Casse said she came out of that start running a temperature.

“I think she’ll run on Polytrack, turf, dirt, anything,” Casse said. “She’ll work however you want her to, and who knows how fast she is, since we’ve never let her run.”

The most accomplished American in the race is Watsdachances, though she barely qualifies as American. Part-owner Peter Bradley arranged for her private purchase after the filly had made two starts in Ireland, and she has won the P.G. Johnson and Miss Grillo Stakes in New York since being transferred to trainer Chad Brown.

“She’s a scopey horse, and she’s only getting better,” said Brown, who won the 2008 Juvenile Fillies Turf with Maram. “I think she stacks up well in this division.”

Watsdachances’ overseas form lines, though, rouse skepticism. She finished third in her debut behind Liberating and Infanta Branca, the latter being the race’s first also-eligible. Liberating later raced against Sky Lantern and was beaten more than three lengths by her.

Among the other Europeans, Waterway Run, an improving Group 3 winner, looks most interesting. Sustained rallied nicely to finish a troubled second behind Watsdachances in the Miss Grillo, but drew the far outside post.