09/14/2010 12:52PM

Drysdale eyes fourth Woodbine Mile title

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Michael Burns
Riviera Cocktail trains Tuesday morning at Woodbine in preparation for a start in Sunday’s Grade 1 Woodbine Mile

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Neil Drysdale still is the king of the Woodbine Mile, with three victories from 10 entrants in nine runnings.

But Drysdale’s participation in Sunday’s renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million race for 3-year-olds and up is not cast in stone, even though his candidate, Riviera Cocktail, has been on the grounds since last Friday.

“He didn’t travel very well,” Drysdale said when reached by telephone at the Keeneland sales.

“That’s why we sent him ahead of time, because we were concerned about it. We’ll see how he picks up.”

Riviera Cocktail would be coming into the Woodbine Mile off a closing fourth-place finish in Del Mar’s Wickerr Handicap, a restricted one-mile turf stakes in which he was beaten two lengths.

Drysdale has used the Wickerr as a springboard to the Woodbine Mile on several previous occasions, two of which yielded victories.

Becrux raced in the Wickerr and then here in the seven-furlong Play the King before upsetting the Woodbine Mile in 2006, while Touch of the Blues won the 2003 Wickerr and doubled up in the Woodbine Mile.

Riviera Cocktail, however, comes here as a less proven commodity than most of his Drysdale-trained predecessors in the Woodbine Mile.

That roll call also includes Labeeb, winner of the 1998 Woodbine Mile; Hawksley Hill, who had finished first only to be disqualified and placed fourth in 1999; and top-notch competitors such as Irish Prize, Sarafan, and King of Happiness who failed to crack the top three.

On the fringes when making his first four starts in France, Riviera Cocktail won his maiden when making his North American debut for Drysdale at Del Mar last summer.

The Kentucky-bred 4-year-old has gone on to win three more races, including the restricted Contested Bid Stakes at Hollywood Park last fall, with his successes coming over one mile or 1 1/16 miles of turf.

Drysdale began considering the Woodbine Mile after watching Riviera Cocktail rally to win an open allowance race over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park.

That effort, which was his last start prior to the Aug. 14 Wickerr, came June 6.

“He’s a come-from-behind horse,” Drysdale said. ‘I thought the one-turn mile and the long stretch there might really suit him.”

Edgar Prado, here to ride Marsh Side for Drysdale in Sunday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Northern Dancer over 1 1/2 miles of turf, has the call on Riviera Cocktail in the Woodbine Mile.

Marsh Side at home at Woodbine

Marsh Side was scheduled to arrive late Tuesday afternoon and will be running here four weeks after his romping five-length win over 1 1/4 miles of soft going in the Sky Classic.

Originally sent east for Saratoga’s Aug. 14 Sword Dancer, Marsh Side was scratched, and despite having been pre-entered in the Aug. 21 Arlington Million, he came here for the Sky Classic.

The Sky Classic was the fourth local stakes success for Marsh Side, a 7-year-old horse owned by Robert S. Evans whose first venture here yielded a win in the 2006 Valedictory over 1 3/4 miles of Polytrack for trainer Michael Dickinson.

Sent to Drysdale after Dickinson retired, Marsh Side won the 2008 Canadian International and the 2009 Northern Dancer, both at 1 1/2 miles on firm courses.

“I think he knows away around up there,” Drysdale said.

Marsh Side had his final major tune-up for the Northern Dancer at Hollywood Park on Monday, working seven furlongs in 1:28.

“He’s doing very well,” Drysdale said. “He looks after himself.”

Marsh Side was disqualified and placed fourth in last year’s Northern Dancer after the stewards ruled he had interfered with two other runners.

That decision was overturned by the Ontario Racing Commission at an appeal hearing this spring, and Marsh Side was reinstated as the winner.

While the racing records reflect that decision, the matter remains unresolved since Jonathan Sheppard, owner and trainer of Northern Dancer runner-up Just As Well, has appealed and the ORC decision is under judicial review in the Ontario court system. Meanwhile, the purse has never been distributed.

Just As Well entered in Parx stakes

Just As Well was nominated to this year’s Northern Dancer but has been entered in Saturday’s $250,000 PTHA President’s Cup at Parx Racing.

The seven-horse field for the President’s Cup also includes the Woodbine-based Rahy’s Attorney, winner of the 2008 Woodbine Mile.

Rahy’s Attorney also was nominated to this year’s Woodbine Mile as was President’s Cup entrant Violon Sacre.

Sheba’s Secret works for Natalma

Sheba’s Secret, a candidate for Saturday’s Natalma Stakes, breezed four furlongs in 48 seconds on the main track here Tuesday morning.

The $150,000 Natalma is one of two Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races on Saturday’s card, along with the $250,000 Summer Stakes.

Both are Grade 3, one-mile turf races for 2-year-olds, with the Natalma being for fillies and mares.

Sheba’s Secret, a Kentucky-bred who races for owner and breeder Charles Fipke and is trained by Roger Attfield. She is a maiden after two starts but has run well on each occasion.

After finishing third in a seven-furlong maiden turf race here Sept. 14, Sheba’s Secret returned on the same surface in the one-mile allowance prep for the Natalma and ended second to the heavily favored Roxy Gap.

“That was quite a nice filly that beat her that day,” said Attfield, who watched Sheba’s Secret finish 4 3/4 lengths back as Roxy Gap recorded her third win in as many starts.

Trained by Mark Casse, Roxy Gap is expected to rule the choice in a Natalma field that should include shippers More Than Real, Street Chimes, and Dos Lunas, plus locally based fillies New Normal, Anne’s Beauty, and Ghost Mistress.

More Than Real and Street Chimes, based at Saratoga for trainer Todd Pletcher, worked five furlongs in 1:01 over Saratoga’s turf training course Monday.

Dos Lunas, trained by John Glenney, arrived here last week and breezed four furlongs in 49.20 on the main track last Sunday.