09/20/2009 11:00PM

Filly and Mare Sprint better fit for Ventura


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The racegoing public had not seen Ventura since her second-place finish in the seven-furlong Madison at Keeneland back on April 9.

Neither had jockey Garrett Gomez, until he got a look at Ventura in the walking ring here Sunday prior to the Woodbine Mile.

"She looked bigger, and stronger," said Gomez.

Ventura, a homebred 5-year-old mare who had finished second in the stakes last year, proceeded to overpower her male rivals with a ninth-to-first move that carried her to a one-length victory in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.

It was the second time in three years that Gomez has ridden the Mile winner. He took the 2007 running with Shakespeare.

Only the sixth female to run in the Woodbine Mile, Ventura earned a guaranteed berth in the Breeders' Cup Mile with her win on Sunday but is headed for a defense of her title in the seven-furlong Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita.

"She loves Santa Anita, with the one-turn seven furlongs on the Polytrack," said Garrett O'Rourke, manager of Juddmonte Farm, who represented the owners and trainer Bobby Frankel here. "A mile is pushing the limits of her stamina."

Following the race, O'Rourke also commented on Ventura's changed appearance.

"She's definitely beefed up," said O'Rourke. "She looks much better now than when I last saw her, at the end of July."

O'Rourke also explained that Ventura's five-month absence from the races was by design.

"She'd been on the go for a long time, from the Breeders' Cup to the Madison," said O'Rourke, noting that Ventura had been called upon for big efforts while winning Santa Anita's Santa Monica and dropping a nose decision to Gio Ponti there in the Frank Kilroe prior to losing by a head in Keeneland's Madison. "Bobby just made the call, to go for the Woodbine Mile and the Breeders' Cup."

Ventura, who had checked into Woodbine a week ago last Friday, will remain here for the time being while her Breeders' Cup travel plans are formulated.

Traffic trouble hampers Champs Elysees

Gomez reckoned that he could have orchestrated a sweep of the day's major events for himself, Juddmonte, and Frankel if Champs Elysees had not encountered trouble in the Grade 1, $750,000 Northern Dancer.

"I know I was going to win," said Gomez, who had scored with Champs Elysees in the 1 1/2-mile turf race last year. "He's the kind of horse the more you ask him, the more he gives.

"I was just getting ready to uncork my stick when I got shut off. Even when I got to the wire, he was running over horses."

Champs Elysees, who was forced to check sharply just inside the furlong marker, was beaten 1 1/4 lengths as the fourth-place finisher but was promoted to third following an inquiry.

Ferneley, invading from California, finished a solid second in the Woodbine Mile after also racing in the backfield under rider Rafael Bejarano through the early stages.

Trained by Ben Cecil, Ferneley was scheduled to head back to the West Coast on Tuesday along with new stablemate Elusive Galaxy, who had finished fourth when making her North American debut here in last Saturday's Grade 3 Natalma for 2-year-old fillies.

Neither Ferneley nor Elusive Galaxy is Breeders' Cup-eligible.

Cigar Mile next target for Bribon

Bribon, who also is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup, was on his way back to New York on Monday with Aqueduct's Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 28 his next major target.

Sent off as the slight 2-1 choice over Ventura in the Woodbine Mile, Bribon was prominent early but failed to match strides with the closers through the latter stages and finished fifth.

"We were a little disappointed in the pace scenario," said trainer Bobby Ribaudo. "It didn't set up as good for him as we'd have liked. He ended up laying closer than we'd wanted. We were hoping they'd give us a little more dash early on.

"But, having said all that, you have to give all the credit to the winner."

While beaten four lengths, Bribon missed third money by just a pair of noses.

"It would have made a lot of difference, purse-wise, to be third," said Ribaudo. "But, we didn't pass anything up coming there and we were treated very well."

Daylight Express may run locally again

Daylight Express, the Barbadian shipper who added a touch of intrigue to the Woodbine Mile, ended last in the field of 10 but was far from disgraced in his 11-length defeat under regular rider Andy Ward.

"It was an experience, for sure," said trainer Robert Pierce. "The jockey did everything right. The horse just got tired, but he's better off for the race."

Daylight Express could see action again at the meeting as he is scheduled to remain here until the end of October along with traveling companion Peaceful Envoy and new stablemate Run Alke Run, who shipped up from Florida.

Juvenile Turf possible for Bridgetown

Last Saturday's Summer and Natalma, both Grade 3, one-mile turf races for 2-year-olds, preceded the Woodbine Mile as the other Breeders' Cup Challenge races run here on the weekend.

Bridgetown, a Melnyk Racing Stable homebred who was an impressive 1 1/2-length winner of the $306,350 Summer, was on his way back to trainer Ken McPeek at Keeneland on Monday after earning a guaranteed starting berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

"Obviously, we'll have to talk it over," said McPeek, who had sent out Bridgetown to score at five and 5 1/2 furlongs on turf in his only starts prior to the Summer, in which he set and pressed the pace after breaking from the outside in the field of 10.

"He's very fast but he had nice, slow works, working behind horses and learning to finish, getting ready to stretch out."

Bay to Bay unlikely to try Breeders' Cup

Bay to Bay, winner of the $157,100 Natalma for locally based owner Rob Smithen and trainer Brian Lynch, is not Breeders' Cup-eligible and is not penciled in for a trip to Santa Anita.

"It's a longshot," said Smithen, citing the $90,000 cost of supplementing plus the associated expenses of shipping as deterrents. "I think this filly has a lot more in her, but it just may not be in the Breeders' Cup."

* Sunday's 11-race card attracted a total all-sources handle of $5,027,002, up 8 percent from $4,645,014 last year. The handle on the Woodbine Mile itself was $1,208,562, a rise of 30 percent compared with $932,022 in 2008.