07/27/2012 3:19PM

Woodbine: Atlantic Hurricane looking back in top form


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Atlantic Hurricane, Canada’s reigning champion female sprinter, got back on target here July 6 in the allowance prep for the Royal North Stakes. On Sunday, Atlantic Hurricane will be looking to duplicate that success in the Royal North, run over the same six-furlong distance on the turf but worth $150,000 and offering Grade 3 status to the field of seven fillies and mares.

“She seems to really be on her game,” said Stuart Simon, trainer and a part-owner of the 5-year-old Atlantic Hurricane. “I’m really happy with her. She’s going in great.”

Atlantic Hurricane had disappointed in her seasonal bow, which came in the six-furlong Whimsical here April 22, and was scratched from the May 19 Hendrie when a routine blood test triggered alarm bells.

After a break on the farm, Atlantic Hurricane came back into Woodbine and showed no signs of rust prevailing by three-quarters of a length in the Royal North prep under her regular rider, Emile Ramsammy.

“She’s run some really good races on the Poly, but I’ve always maintained she’s just as good or better on grass,” said Simon. “That was her first start in two and a half months. She should move forward off it.”

Atlantic Hurricane will face some serious opposition from fellow locals Jenny’s So Great and Roxy Gap.

Jenny’s So Great, winner of last year’s Royal North for trainer Greg De Gannes, was making her second start of the meeting in the prep and finished a closing second after encountering trouble in upper stretch with jockey Luis Contreras in the irons for the first time.

“She’s in peak condition – she’s dying to run,” said De Gannes, who had watched Jenny’s So Great finish seventh here returning from a three-month layoff in the June 16 Zadcracarta, a seven-furlong turf race which she won last year. “I think that last race brought her forward. I think she needed her first race.

“She’s not the easiest horse to ride. Now Luis has had the chance to ride her and work her a couple more times. She seems to relax really well for him.”

Roxy Gap won both the Grade 3 Whimsical and Grade 2 Hendrie on the main track and then finished second behind the redoubtable Marketing Mix in the Grade 2 Nassau over one mile of turf.

Scratched from the Royal North prep, Roxy Gap went in the following day’s Sweet Briar Too and finished second as the odds-on choice in that seven-furlong overnight stakes.

“Her turf races have been very good,” said trainer Mark Casse. “I think Roxy’s coming into this race better than she did in her last race. But, it’s going to be a tough task for her.”

Patrick Husbands retains the mount on Roxy Gap.

Invaders Honey Chile and Classy Zip also are possibilities in a field that is completed by Anywhere and Dance to the Moon.

Awesome Fire breezing

Awesome Fire turned in a big effort to finish third, beaten just three-quarters of a length, as a 35-1 outsider in the June 24 Woodbine Oaks at 1 1/8 miles. But Awesome Fire was mildly disappointing in the second leg of the triple tiara for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies as she ran fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, at odds of 5-2

Martha Gonzalez, wife and assistant to Awesome Fire’s trainer, Nick Gonzalez, believes that circumstances worked against Awesome Fire and her rider, Emma-Jayne Wilson, in the Bison City.

“It was a paceless race,” said Gonzalez. “She did make a little move on the turn but when I saw Emma get busy on her, and she wasn’t making up ground, I knew we were in trouble. They just sprinted home the last eighth of a mile.”

Awesome Fire has breezed once since the Bison City, getting five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 on the main track here July 19.

“It was a nice, easy five-eighths and she galloped out good,” said Gonzalez. “It’s pretty easy keeping her fit.”

And, while Gonzalez does not see the Wonder Where distance as an obstacle, the turf is a wild card.

“She’s never been on the grass,” said Gonzalez. “I don’t like training them on turf. They either handle it or they don’t.”

Awesome Fire also will have a new rider for the Wonder Where as Chantal Sutherland, sister of the filly’s owner, Hugh Sutherland, will be in from Del Mar for the mount.

Sutherland was in town for the weekend of April 14 but was winless from six mounts.

Top-notch allowances

Two allowance races on Sunday’s card include some prominent members of the local 3-year-old division in River Rush and Excaper.

River Rush, winner of the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial here June 3 but sixth as the 7-2 choice in the June 24 Queen’s Plate, will face eight rivals in a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and upward at 1 1/16 miles.

Excaper, who has made his last six starts in stakes races, also drops into a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and upward over one mile of turf.

River Rush won the Plate Trial with an inside trip after breaking from the outside post, but ducked in just after the start of the Queen’s Plate from post 1. He drew the rail again Sunday.

“Going one and a quarter miles, out of the chute, there’s a space and green horses will do that,” said Baker. “The 1 hole doesn’t bother me at 1 1/16 miles.

“I expect him to run well, but he’ll be compromised if it’s another speed-biased racetrack like it was Plate Day.”

Excaper, second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs last fall, has been the runner-up in both the one-mile Charlie Barley and the 1 1/8-mile Toronto Cup over the local turf course in his two appearances this season.

“I wanted to put him somewhere where he has a good chance of winning,” said trainer Ian Black. “He hasn’t won since he broke his maiden first time out.”

Excaper, a Kentucky-bred, raced without blinkers in his last two starts.

“I’m putting the blinkers back on,” said Black. “I think he ran a little spotty without them.

“First time out, he got too far out of it. Last time, they sort of ran away from him on the turn and he ran on again.”