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Field Commission appears primed
ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Danny Vella's first venture in the Woodbine Mile was a last-place finish with All Firmed Up in the inaugural running in 1997.
On Sunday, Vella will be looking to move to the head of the class with Field Commission, who is coming off a second-place finish in the over seven furlongs on turf here Aug. 29.
"If he'd got a clean trip, he would have won," said Vella, who had watched Field Commission close to within three-quarters of a length of the victorious favorite Jungle Wave. "He got stopped turning for home. He had to wait for a hole to open."
An Ontario-bred 4-year-old who is owned by Vella and Ed Seltzer, Field Commission was unstarted at 2 but put together a three-race win streak here last summer and wound up his campaign with a close fourth-place finish in the six-furlong Kennedy Road.
And Field Commission has continued to advance this season, becoming a stakes winner in the Grade 3 Vigil at seven furlongs and then finishing second in his turf debut, the Grade 3 Highlander at six furlongs.
Following a subpar effort in the Bold Venture, Field Commission returned six weeks later with his strong effort in the Play the King.
"He's almost a horse that does a little better with his races closer than farther apart," said Vella. "His last race, he almost had too much time in between.
"But he's primed now, and ready to go. I think that race really put him in the right zone. The way he's running right now I think a mile around one turn is probably his best race."
Field Commission will have a new rider for the Woodbine Mile in Julian Leparoux, who also is scheduled to ride Just As Well in Sunday's Grade 1, $750,000 Northern Dancer and Forever Together in the Grade 2, $300,000 Canadian.
Armed for the Summer, too
Vella also has a leading contender for Saturday's Summer Stakes in Korvette Kid, who was an impressive winner of his only start, which came over six furlongs of turf here Aug. 15.
The Grade 3, $300,000 Summer, a one-mile turf race for 2-year-olds, joins the Woodbine Mile and Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Natalma for 2-year-old fillies as Breeders' Cup Win and You're In races.
Korvette Kid, a Kentucky-bred who is out of the Canadian champion and turf specialist Bold Ruritana, is owned by Seltzer and Cabernet Racing Stable.
"I watched him train in Florida this winter, and even then he showed he had the makings of a decent horse," said Vella. "We expected him to run well. He always trains very well."
Korvette Kid has worked three times since his successful Aug. 15 debut, with the latest a five-furlong breeze in 1:04 here on Monday morning.
"He had his big work last week, on the turf," said Vella, who had sent out Korvette Kid to drill five furlongs in a bullet 58.80 seconds on the turf training course here Aug. 15. "He broke five lengths behind another horse, ended up five lengths in front, and galloped out three-quarters in 1:11.60. He's in great order."
Jim McAleney will be back aboard Korvette Kid.
Benestar a work in progress
Benestar, a Kentucky-bred owned by Alvin Wong, also will represent the Vella barn in the Summer.
Benestar has displayed contrasting styles in his two starts, which came over six furlongs on turf. He led through most of his opener before being beaten a length as the runner-up. In his second start he closed to finish three-quarters of a length behind the winner in third place.
"The first time he was a little too sharp," said Vella. "He's kind of a lazy horse, and I put blinkers on him. Once he got tuned up, he didn't need them any more, and he settled better."
Benestar also experienced traffic problems in his second outing, which also was his first try with Lasix.
"He had a horrible trip," said Vella. "Just nothing went right for him."
Patrick Husbands retains the mount on Benestar.
Invading team has two favorites
Jonathan Sheppard is the trainer and Julien Leparoux the rider of the morning-line favorites for both of Sunday's supporting features.
Forever Together should be odds-on for the Grade 2, $300,000 Canadian, a 1 1/8 mile turf race for fillies and mares, while Just As Well has been established as a 5-2 favorite for the Grade 1, $750,000 Northern Dancer for 3-year-olds and upward at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.
As the winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and the Eclipse Award-winning turf female, Forever Together is no stranger to the spotlight.
Just As Well, however, is a relative newcomer to the top echelons of the game.
A Kentucky-bred 6-year-old, Just As Well was facing a lengthy layoff after finishing his first campaign in less than perfect order and his owner and breeder, George Strawbridge Jr., gave the horse to Sheppard.
Just As Well returned almost two years later with back-to-back wins in maiden and first-level allowance races.
But the stakes have been upped this year, as Just As Well finished second in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap this winter and has gone on to place in four consecutive graded turf stakes, the most recent being a second-place finish behind Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million.
Both the Arlington Million and Just As Well's previous win in the Arlington Handicap were over 1 1/4 miles on turf.
"I'm looking forward to running him at a mile and a half," said Sheppard. "In his first races last year he was too eager early - he was going to run himself into the ground. He's learned to switch himself off, and settle early."
They both breezed five furlongs at Presque Isle Downs on Wednesday with Forever Together clocked in 58.60 seconds and Just As Well in 59.80.
Maritime Passion retired after injury
Maritime Passion, who had been one of the leading contenders for Saturday's Natalma, has been retired after fracturing a sesamoid during a gallop on the turf course here Wednesday.
"It was a nice, easy gallop," said trainer Mike DePaulo. "She was switching leads, and the exercise rider said she took a funny step. She's going to be a momma now."
Maritime Passion, owned by Ben Hutzel, won 2 of her 3 starts, including the Shady Well, and earned $153,400.
The filly had breezed five furlongs in 57.60 seconds here last Sunday.