08/28/2005 11:00PM

Coastal Fortress may be nearing her best


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Coastal Fortress got a late start to her campaign and could be poised to reach her peak in Wednesday's $125,000 Eternal Search Stakes at Woodbine.

Coastal Fortress captured the restricted South Ocean Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in November to close her 2-year-old season. Trainer Barb Minshall then put Coastal Fortress away for the winter, believing everything was okay with her. But Coastal Fortress came up with an ankle problem early this year, a setback that led to her absence from several lucrative early season stakes.

"She came up with a chip in her ankle, which wasn't diagnosed earlier," Minshall said. "We got the surgery done, and unfortunately we were late getting started with her."

Coastal Fortress returned to action June 15, finishing far back in an allowance sprint. She fared much better going long in an open first-level allowance July 10, finishing second to front-running Higher World at 36-1. Most recently, in a 1 1/16-mile allowance for Ontario-sired runners, Coastal Fortress was second to a sharp Schooner Bay.

Minshall said she is excited with the way Coastal Fortress has trained up to the Eternal Search. On Aug. 17, she drilled five furlongs over the main track in 1:01 and a week later went the same distance in 1:00.60.

Minshall has named jockey Dino Luciani to ride, a combination that is 2 for 8 at the meeting.

A 1 1/16-mile event, the Eternal Search has lured five other Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies, including Ours to Keep, Archie's Gal, and Whiskey and Low.

Ours to Keep won her Dec. 5 debut against $40,000 maidens by nearly 16 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 85. Her next race didn't come until Aug. 11, when she finished third after a wide trip in an Ontario-sired allowance sprint.

Ours to Keep's pedigree suggests she can handle the stretch in distance: Her sire, Archers Bay, took the Queen's Plate, and her dam has thrown three route winners.

Archie's Gal was beaten 30 lengths after stumbling at the start of the June 12 Labatt Woodbine Oaks, but redeemed herself when she led throughout a Ontario-sired allowance route June 29. Last time, Archie's Gal was a distant fourth behind Schooner Bay and Coastal Fortress.

Whiskey and Low has been a disappointment since finishing third in the seven-furlong Lady Angela Stakes in the spring, and trainer Reade Baker is taking the blinkers off her for this engagement.