08/23/2010 11:53AM

Marsh Side reaffirms fondness for Woodbine's turf course

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Michael Burns
Marsh Side, under Edgar Pride, snaps a five-race losing streak by taking the Sky Classic at Woodbine.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Marsh Side’s cross-country search for a suitable turf course ended here at Woodbine on Sunday when the 7-year-old horse prevailed over soft going in the 1 1/4-mile Sky Classic.

Owned by Robert S. Evans and trained by Neil Drysdale, Marsh Side had journeyed to Saratoga for the Aug. 14 Sword Dancer but was scratched when the conditions were deemed to be unsuitable.

Marsh Side then was entered in last Saturday’s Arlington Million but already was at Woodbine by midweek with an eye toward the Grade 2 Sky Classic.

“He had the three options, but if it wasn’t going to rain the plan always had been to come to the Sky Classic,” said Patrick Lawley-Wakelin, racing manager for the Evans stable. “He loves this course.”

Marsh Side was scratched because the Sword Dancer, despite its more favorable 1 1/2-mile distance, was being run over the inner course with its tight turns and on a firm surface.

“It was going to be difficult for us,” said Lawley-Wakelin. “He’s a big horse, with a big long stride.”

Passing on the Arlington Million was a more difficult decision, since Marsh Side’s entry fees had been paid and the horse had run well there when a close fourth in the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Handicap on July 17.

“The ground seemed really good then, but we were under the understanding that it wouldn’t rain there all week,” said Lawley-Wakelin. “We thought he could handle that course, but we weren’t so sure about Gio Ponti.”

As it transpired, the Arlington Million was run over good going and Gio Ponti was upset by the European invader Debussy.

But that was all water under the bridge after Marsh Side, under a confident ride by Edgar Prado, stalked the early pace of outsider Casual Dude and took charge in early stretch for a comfortable five-length victory over runner-up Windward Islands in the $254,900 Sky Classic.

“The one thing I loved about the race was that he was able to do it under his own terms,” said Lawley-Wakelin. “He loved the ground, and Edgar said he was just out there having fun. It was a huge confidence-booster.”

Marsh Side snapped a five-race losing streak in the Sky Classic. His last win came here in last September’s Grade 1, $750,000 Northern Dancer.

Although Marsh Side was disqualified from first and placed fourth by the stewards, that verdict was overturned following an appeal hearing by the Ontario Racing Commission this March and Marsh Side was reinstated as the winner.

The ORC ruling, in turn, has been challenged by Jonathan Sheppard, trainer of Northern Dancer second-place finisher Just As Well, and that case now under judicial review in the province of Ontario’s court system.

In the meantime, Marsh Side should be returning to Drysdale at Hollywood Park this week with an eye toward being back at Woodbine for the Northern Dancer, which will be run Sept. 19.

“He loves this course,” said Lawley-Wakelin.

Spice Route will await Northern Dancer

Spice Route, considered one of the major threats to Marsh Side in the Sky Classic, was scratched after the rains came.

“The turf was far too soft for my fellow,” said Roger Attfield, who trains Spice Route and owns the 6-year-old gelding in partnership with Dick Bonnycastle and Ralph Johnson. “I hurt him doing this last year.”

Spice Route had finished a well-beaten fifth over a soft course here in last year’s July 26 Nijinsky and did not return until the Oct. 17 Canadian, in which he finished sixth.

“I’ll train him up to the Northern Dancer,” said Attfield.

Spice Route was one of three stakes entrants on Sunday who did not make it to the post for Attfield, as No Explaining was scratched when Saratoga’s Lake Placid was taken off the turf and Rag and Bones opted out of Sunday’s Belle Mahone here at Woodbine.

No Explaining and Exclusive Love, a filly by Mark Casse who also was scratched from the Lake Placid, could run here in Saturday’s $150,000 Ontario Colleen, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies.

Rag and Bone could be heading to Hoosier Park for Saturday’s $100,000 Wigwam, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares.

Jacally takes second straight stakes

Attfield was active on three stakes fronts here last Saturday and it was his Woodbine division, under the stewardship of assistant trainer Nancy Sullivan, which saved the day.

Bluegrass Princess, Oregon Lady, and Jacally all came through for the Attfield outfit with Jacally’s success coming in the $126,200 Eternal Search.

Owned by Dick Bonnycastle, Jacally was recording her second consecutive stakes win after capturing the seven-furlong Passing Mood on the turf here July 21.

Originally purchased for $57,000 at the local select yearling sale, Jacally was bought back for the same price at the Ocala 2-year-olds in training sale last March.

“She was very immature, in her ankles,” said Attfield. “She came back up to me this spring, in Keeneland.”

Jacally hasn’t done a whole lot wrong since then as she has recorded 3 wins and a pair of seconds in 6 starts, good for earnings of $211,830.

“Her pedigree looked like it was more long than short,” said Attfield, reflecting on Jacally’s performance in the 1 1/16-mile Eternal Search for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies. ”She did it very nicely.”

Canadian could be Ave’s next assignment

Attfield himself had been at Arlington Park on Saturday, where he watched Perfect Shower run fourth in the Grade 3 Stars N Stripes and Ave finish a troubled eighth in the Grade 1 Beverly D.

Ave had been involved in a skirmish around the clubhouse turn and emerged somewhat the worse for the experience under rider Ramon Dominguez.

“She got a few cuts and bruises, but she should be okay,” said Attfield.

Ave, who had come into the Beverly D. off a near-miss here in the Dance Smartly over 1 1/16 miles of turf, could return in the Grade 2 Canadian over the same course and distance here Sept. 19.

Perfect Shirl wound up Attfield’s long day with a third-place finish in the Del Mar Oaks under Chantal Sutherland.

“I thought that trip would knock her out, but she ran really well,” said Attfield. “She showed a lot of gumption.”