09/26/2007 11:00PM

Expectations high again for Ice Bear

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario – Ice Bear was trainer Mac Benson’s Queen’s Plate hopeful this spring, but the hopes were abandoned when the gelding disappointed him in two starts over Polytrack here at Woodbine.

Fast-forward to Sunday, and Ice Bear, who is coming off an impressive win over 1?1/16 miles on Polytrack, will be making his stakes debut on that surface in the $150,000 Ontario Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

“It’s so much better if you can get one to run on Polytrack,” said Benson, who trains Ice Bear for owner and breeder George Strawbridge Jr. “There are far more Polytrack races than there are turf races.”

Ice Bear made the switch to turf in his third start this spring and won the one-mile Charlie Barley in his second try over the surface.

But when an Aug. 26 race in which Ice Bear was entered was taken off the turf due to weather, he stayed in the lineup and ran respectably while facing older rivals.

Then came his last start, when he led throughout in a second-level allowance against older horses.

Ice Bear wore blinkers in his earlier attempts on Polytrack this year and Benson believes removing them has led to Ice Bear’s general improvement.

On Sunday, Ice Bear will be put to the test, facing Alezzandro, who won the Prince of Wales, and Mike Fox, winner of the Queen’s Plate.

“He ran so good the other day that this was the place to run him,” said Benson. “It’s our last chance to run against straight 3-year-olds.”

Skip Code off layoff

Skip Code, who has not raced since finishing third here in the July 14 Toronto Cup over 1 1/8 miles on the turf, adds intrigue to the Ontario Derby lineup.

“We gave him a little bit of a break,” said Mark Casse, who trains Skip Code for owner Charles Laloggia. “It turned out to be a bit longer than we intended.”

Skip Code’s return was delayed when a prep for the Ontario Derby set did not fill, but Casse does not see that as a major setback.

“He’s training better than he was earlier,” said Casse. “He’s shown some new life here recently. I’m not at all concerned about his fitness.”

Jono Jones will ride Skip Code for the first time.

Thinking Keeneland

Both Benson and Casse also could see stakes action at Keeneland on Oct. 6.

Benson is pointing Arravale for the Grade 2, $400,000 First Lady, a one-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

Casse is considering Briarwood Circle for the Grade 1, $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity, a 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds. He also has nominated Clearly Foxy to the Grade 1, $500,000 Alcibiades, a 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old fillies.

Arravale, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old owned by Bob Costigan, will be seeking her first win of the year. The First Lady will be her fourth start of 2007.

Canada’s Horse of the Year and champion turf female in 2006, Arravale is coming off a 10th-place finish in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, where she was beaten 4 1/2 lengths. She was the lone filly in the 14-horse field.

“She had a really great blowout the other day,” said Benson. Arravale breezes three furlongs in 35 seconds on Monday.

“I’d had no intention of doing anything with her, but she was just so sharp,” Benson added.

Regular rider Jose Valdivia, who rode Arravale to Grade 1 wins in the Del Mar Derby and the E.P. Taylor Stakes last year, has the call for the First Lady.

Briarwood Circle, coming off a second-place finish behind the invader Prussian here in the Grade 3 Summer over one mile on turf, will be Keeneland-bound as long as his stablemate Turf War remains on target for the Grey Stakes.

The Grade 3, $250,000 Grey, will be run here Oct. 8 at 1 1/16 miles.

“I definitely want to be represented in the Grey,” said Casse. “The only way Briarwood Circle wouldn’t go to Keeneland is if I wasn’t happy with the way he’s training or if I wasn’t happy with the way Turf War is training.”

Briarwood Circle has run well on Polytrack, winning the off-the-turf prep for the Summer.

Turf War has won two straight starts here, including the seven-furlong Swynford last time out.

Clearly Foxy out of Mazarine

Clearly Foxy won the Grade 3 Natalma over one mile on turf in her last start. Trained by Casse, she had been scheduled to race here in Saturday’s Grade 3 Mazarine, but due to illness she will not join Casse’s two other entrants in the 1 1/16-mile race.

The $150,000 Jessamine, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 2-year-old fillies on Oct. 11 at Keeneland, is now an option for Clearly Foxy, as well as the main goal for Lickety Lemon.

“She got bit, we think, by a spider,” Casse of Clearly Foxy. “Her leg blew up, and she had a temperature of 104.

“We put her on antibiotics, and her temperature came down, but she missed a few days of training.”

Lickety Lemon, who suffered her first defeat when running third as the odds-on choice in the Natalma, will be sticking to turf.

Authenicat tunes up

Authenicat worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 under Patrick Husbands here Thursday morning in preparation for Wednesday’s $125,000 Victorian Queen Stakes.

“She finished up well,” said Josie Carroll, who trains Authenicat.

Authenicat, an impressive winner of a first-level allowance last time out, will be looking for her first stakes win in the Victorian Queen, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies.

* Emma-Jayne Wilson was the riding star here Wednesday evening with four winners. She scored with Lady Moon ($6.70), Ever So Free ($6.10), Quench ($28.80), and Cool Proposal ($17.80) to bring her win total for the meet to 86 heading into Thursday’s program.