04/10/2008 11:00PM

Turf stars back on grounds


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Jambalaya and Sky Conqueror, the top two turf horses stabled on the grounds last season and Grade 1 winners on the road, both are back at Woodbine gearing up for their 2008 campaigns.

Sky Conqueror, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, had the edge on Jambalaya in two meetings here last year, winning the Northern Dancer after finishing second to Eccentric in the King Edward.

Jambalaya, winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup in February 2007, ran third in both the King Edward and Northern Dancer but later played his trump card by capturing the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

But if Jambalaya and Sky Conqueror cross swords again this season, it definitely will not be anytime soon.

Sky Conqueror had three months off after winding up his 2007 campaign with a close seventh-place finish in the Canadian International but has been working in Florida and shouldn't be too long in returning to action.

Jambalaya, however, underwent a lengthy period of recuperation precipitated by a serious bone bruise and is unlikely to be seen until late summer.

"He's gotten over his injury," said trainer Catherine Day Phillips, who also owns Jambalaya in partnership with her husband, Todd Phillips.

"He's doing well. We're in the process of getting him legged up and back to breezing."

Jambalaya, an Ontario-bred 6-year-old gelding, had earned an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf with his victory in the Aug. 11 Arlington Million.

Belmont's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was slated to be Jambalaya's final stepping-stone to the Turf, and he had been working well when sidelined in early September.

"He came down to Florida with us late last fall," said Day Phillips, who owns a farm in the Ocala area.

"In a perfect world, we were hoping to start doing a little bit with him in December. But we re-radiographed him, and the vet advised we wait another two months, so we did."

Jambalaya, who started walking at the end of February, has worked his way up to jogging and should begin galloping this week.

"For now he's happy to be back at the track, and we're happy to have him back," Day Phillips said.

Sky Conqueror, owned and bred by Bill Sorokolit, arrived at Woodbine on Wednesday evening after wintering with trainer Darwin Banach at Plumleigh Farm.

"He's slowly coming back," said Banach, who has 24 stalls here. "He needed some time, so we gave him a break.

"We would have liked to make it back to the Woodford, but it just wasn't going to happen."

Banach said the Grade 3, $150,000 Connaught Cup, a 1 1/16-mile turf race here May 25, was a possible target for Sky Conqueror.

Palace Pier, Native Legend ship in

Joining Sky Conqueror on his trip north were stakes-winning stablemates Palace Pier and Native Legend, a pair of 4-year-old fillies owned and bred by Sorokolit.

Palace Pier, an Ontario-bred, won the 1 1/16-mile Ontario Lassie here as a 2-year-old. And, while she was blanked in six appearances last year, Palace Pier did finish third in Keeneland's Grade 2 Beaumont and Woodbine's Fury.

Native Legend, a Kentucky-bred, won her first two starts here last spring, including the six-furlong Star Shoot, but was unplaced in three subsequent outings.

Like a Gem retired with injury

Like a Gem, a 5-year-old mare who closed out her 2007 campaign with back-to-back stakes victories here, has been retired.

Owned and bred by Garland Williamson, Like a Gem had been scheduled to return to the races this year but was injured while training in Florida.

"She could have been brought back in training but she would have been out three months or so, and you don't know if she'd ever be as good as before," Williamson said.

An Ontario-bred daughter of Tactical Cat and Its A Ruby, Like a Gem won 6 of 18 starts and $582,708 for trainer Danny Vella.

Like a Gem's first stakes win came in the 2006 Wonder Where, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies. Last fall, she added the River Memories over one mile on turf and the Maple Leaf over 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack.

Williamson said Like a Gem would be bred to Hard Spun.

Verdana Bold makes local debut

Vella will have his first stakes starter of the meeting here Sunday with Verdana Bold is slated to face five other 3-year-old fillies in the $150,000 Star Shoot.

Verdana Bold, a Kentucky-bred owned by Edward Seltzer, made her first four starts at Laurel for trainer Rodney Jenkins, winning her maiden over 5 1/2 furlongs of turf and a first-level allowance at the same distance on dirt.

In her last start, on Feb. 9, Verdana Bold ended 3 3/4 lengths back as the fourth-place finisher in the six-furlong Marshua.

"I've had her here for about three weeks," Vella said. "She trains really nice. She's a beautiful filly; she does everything right."

Moonshine Hall wins at Keeneland

Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Patrick Husbands teamed up to win a turf allowance at Keeneland on Thursday with Moonshine Hall, a Kentucky-bred 8-year-old gelding.

Casse and Husbands did not fare nearly as well with their other runners there, however, as Be Envied was eighth in another turf allowance and Officer Cherrie ran seventh in the Beaumont.

Officer Cherrie, a Kentucky-bred filly, won the Ontario Debutante and Mazarine here last year and was runner-up in the balloting for the Sovereign Award for 2-year-old fillies.

Gloriously targets Woodbine Oaks

Gloriously, an Ontario-bred 3-year-old filly who is with Casse at Keeneland, is a prospect for the June 8 Woodbine Oaks.

Gloriously was a game winner of her six-furlong debut at Fair Grounds on March 1 and doubled up in a seven-furlong entry-level allowance at Keeneland last Saturday.

"I'm very excited about her," said Casse, whose current game plan calls for Gloriously to make just one more start before the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks. "I'm trying to decide whether to run her in the Fury or the La Troienne."

The seven-furlong Fury will be run here April 27 and the 7 1/2-furlong La Troienne is May 3 at Churchill Downs.