08/04/2010 1:00PM

Sheppard ships pair to Penn for turf stakes

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Barbara Weidl/EQUI-PHOTO
Auction Watch will be among the favorites in Friday's Robellino Stakes at Penn National.

The highly successful combination of trainer Jonathan Sheppard and George Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable will ship in a lightly raced filly and a well-accomplished 7-year-old gelding for Friday night’s turf stakes doubleheader at Penn National Race Course.

Sheppard and Augustin Stable are a collective 19 for 44 (43 percent) in stakes the last five years, thanks primarily to their outstanding turf mare Forever Together and their filly-mare sprint champion Informed Decision. They have last-out maiden winner Fugitive Angel in the $75,000 Russian Rhythm and Auction Watch, winner of 6 of 11 lifetime starts on turf, in the $75,000 Robellino. Both races, restricted to Pennsylvania-breds, are scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Auction Watch figures to be a strong contender in the Robellino (race 3). In his only two previous tries against statebreds, Auction Watch won the $75,000 Alphabet Soup at Philadelphia Park in 2009 and 2008. Although he has been off since February, Auction Watch won in May 2009 following a break of 10 months. In addition, Sheppard is 7 for 26 with horses returning after a break of 61 to 180 days in non-graded turf stakes, according to DRF ’s Formulator.

The main challengers to Auction Watch look like Saco River, who finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Auction Watch the last time they met in the 2009 Alphabet Soup, and Crow’s Nest, who drops from open company following back-to-back wins at Delaware Park and Penn National.

Saco River, 7 for 21 lifetime on turf, is a deep closer who has been primarily facing $25,000 starter allowance company. He has won 2 of 3 starts this season.

The 6-year-old Crow’s Nest, based in Maryland, was a neck behind Saco River when they met last September. He will be making his first stakes appearance since finishing last of 11 in the 2009 Henry Clark at Pimlico.

In the Russian Rhythm (race 2), Fugitive Angel raced in routes in the first three starts of her career with trainer Graham Motion, but shortened to 5 1/2 furlongs when she made her first start for Sheppard on June 19 at Colonial Downs. She rallied from 13th, 18 lengths off the lead after a quarter-mile, to get up by a nose.

Fugitive Angel will need to improve substantially off that effort to compete with seven-time turf winner Always for Love. A 6-year-old mare based at Philadelphia Park with trainer Lupe Preciado, Always for Love romped by nine lengths the last time she faced Pennsylvania-breds in last fall’s Mrs. Penny at her home track.

Synthetic-track specialist Ariana D will be making just her second start on turf and stretching out following three straight six-furlong sprints. The only other time she made a similar move, Ariana D was a nonthreatening fifth in the Pago Hop at Fair Grounds.

Miss Blue Tye Dye, a six-time stakes winner on dirt, makes a rare appearance on turf first time off the claim for trainer Dave Geist. Three years ago, when this race was contested at five furlongs on the turf at Philly Park, Miss Blue Tye Dye finished second, beaten only a length.