07/12/2006 11:00PM

Noble Stella defends her title

Adam Coglianese / NYRA
Noble Stella (right) hangs on to defeat Angara in the New York BC Handicap at Belmont Park.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Noble Stella will be out to win the 1 1/8-mile Dance Smartly Handicap for fillies and mares for the second consecutive year on Saturday at Woodbine.

Noble Stella has evolved into one of the leading turf females in North America this year under the guidance of trainer Roger Attfield. She led throughout in her second start of the year in the Grade 3 Bewitch at 1 1/2 miles at Keeneland in April, then ended up second to Honey Ryder in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont Park in May.

Last time out, over soft ground in the Grade 2 New York BC Handicap at Belmont, Noble Stella led at every call and dug in gamely to win by a neck.

Aside from her obvious talent, Attfield said Noble Stella's strength is her versatility.

"She doesn't care what [the conditions] are," Attfield said. "She won the Dance Smartly on a road last year. She was usually on the lead in her mile-and-a-half races, because there was no pace, and she has natural speed. She will rate off the pace when she goes shorter, like she did in the last year's Dance Smartly. She's a very genuine filly."

Attfield said his only concern heading into the Grade 2, $3000,000 Dance Smartly is that Noble Stella missed a recent work when a turf training session was canceled.

"I'm short a work on her, but she's very fit," Attfield said. "She should be okay."

Mike Smith retains the mount on Noble Stella, who is owned by Gary Tanaka.

The other contenders in the Dance Smartly are Ambitious Cat and Ozone Bere.

Ambitious Cat, last year's champion turf female in Canada, has yet to win a stakes. She was recently a close second to Naissance Royale here in the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes.

Trainer Eric Coatrieux said he was satisfied with Ambitious Cat's half-mile work last Sunday in 49.60 seconds over Woodbine's training track. Todd Kabel, who has the mount Saturday, was aboard for the drill.

"It was an easy work," Coatrieux said. "She had another work [the previous weekend] at the farm, where she worked three-quarters of a mile. She's all set to go. This is as good as I've ever had her."

Ozone Bere, based at Belmont with trainer Christophe Clement, has run two good races since coming from France. She won the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap in May at Pimlico and returned to finish third in the Grade 2 Just a Game Handicap at Belmont.

* Nergal, another French import trained by Clement, will be well backed in Saturday's supporting feature, the $150,000 Toronto Cup Stakes.