10/01/2010 11:21AM

Eye of the Leopard back to stakes in Durham Cup

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Michael Burns
Eye of the Leopard returns to stakes company in Sunday's Grade 3 Durham Cup at Woodbine.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Eye of the Leopard, last year’s champion 3-year-old in Canada, ended a slump when he won a recent optional claimer with determination. He goes back to stakes company Sunday at Woodbine in the nine-furlong Durham Cup, a Grade 3 race worth $150,000.

Eye of the Leopard had gone winless since taking the $1 million Queen’s Plate in June 2009, before his victory in a third-level allowance with an $80,000 claiming option traveling 1 1/16 miles on Sept. 15.

In a field devoid of speed, Eye of the Leopard vied up front along the rail with two others through slow splits, before dropping back at the quarter pole. He seemed dead in the water until Eurico Da Silva angled him wide in midstretch, and from there he re-rallied to prevail in a time that earned him a co-career-high 92 Beyer Speed Figure.

Da Silva said Eye of the Leopard didn’t like the opposing pressure to his outside, which is why he gave way on the far turn.

“He was going at his own pace, and I couldn’t keep up when they kept pressing and pressing,” Da Silva said. “He just got a little intimidated. When I took him outside, he responded very well. I was full of horse again. He had worked very well. He was feeling so great. I think he’ll be a better horse from now on. The more distance for him, the better.”

Eye of the Leopard missed the board in each of his two previous outings in the United States for trainer Neil Howard and was reunited with trainer Mark Frostad for his last race.

Southdale won the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes over 1 1/16 miles in his second start off a long layoff June 5 and subsequently saved ground over an outside-biased track when third in the 10-furlong Dominion Day Stakes. He competed on the grass in his two most recent excursions, both in Grade 2 stakes, finishing third in the Nijinsky and sixth in the Play the King.

Trainer Ian Black said Southdale is seemingly better on Polytrack than the turf and is probably at his best over middle distances.

“He didn’t run a bad race going a mile and a quarter,” Black explained. “Maybe a mile and a sixteenth will be his ideal distance, when it’s all said and done.”

Stunning Stag raced four wide on both turns when third behind favored Gayego in the Sept. 10 Presque Isle Mile.