01/03/2013 1:11PM

Gulfsteam Park: Heavenly Landing fresh, fit for defense of Marshua's River title


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The high point of Heavenly Landing’s 2012 campaign came early, when she rallied from the rear of the pack to capture the Grade 3 Marshua’s River just one week into the new year.

Trainer Eddie Kenneally is hoping the Marshua’s River will be the first of many high points for Heavenly Landing in 2013, when she returns to defend her title against nine rivals on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Heavenly Landing did not win again last year until her season finale when she registered a 1 1/4-length allowance victory going a mile at Keeneland on Oct. 5. In between those two tallies, Heavenly Landing made six starts, finishing second in a pair of Grade 3 races in June as well as fourth in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Jenny Wiley.

“She’s doing great, runs well fresh, likes the track,” said Kenneally, who trains Heavenly Landing for the Lally Stable. “She’d been running against some of the best fillies in the country during the summer. We just wanted to give her an easy time, build her confidence a little in her last start, then freshen her up for the coming year.”

Heavenly Landing will share top weight of 121 pounds under the allowance conditions of the 1 1/16-mile Marshua’s River with Leading Astray, who will make her local debut on Saturday. Leading Astray has won five times and never finished worse than third in eight career starts, with her most important victory the Grade 3 Pucker Up at Arlington Park on Sept. 15. She completed her 3-year-old campaign last year by finishing third in the Grade 3 Valley View at Keeneland and second behind the odds-on Centre Court in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs.

There should be plenty of pace for the stretch-running Heavenly Landing and Leading Astray to run at in the Marshua’s River ,with both Frontside and Fantasy of Flight in the lineup.

Frontside led to the eighth pole before finishing a tiring eighth here last month in the South Beach. She posted wire-to-wire victories earlier last season in stakes at Indiana Downs and Mountaineer Racetrack.

Fantasy of Flight was Grade 3-placed early in her career when second going a mile over the main track in Churchill’s Dogwood Stakes. She is looking to rebound from a very disappointing performance in her 2012 finale when she tired badly to finish fifth and last as the 3-5 favorite in Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Go for Wand Handicap.

Hard Not to Like makes her first start since finishing a troubled sixth in the Kentucky Oaks and first since being transferred to trainer Michael Matz’s barn after undergoing surgery last spring.

The Irish-bred Chokurei exits her best North American performance when a fast-closing second, beaten a neck by the favored Romacaca, in the South Beach. Chokurei has registered all four of her wins in Europe.

Channel Lady, trained by Todd Pletcher, steps up into graded stakes company for the first time off an overnight stakes victory over the Aqueduct turf course in her 3-year-old finale.