07/30/2012 12:01PM

Woodbine: Awesome Fire takes to turf in Wonder Where victory

Michael Burns
Awesome Fire, with Chantal Sutherland up, wins the $250,400 Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – While studying the field for last Sunday’s Wonder Where Stakes, trainer Nick Gonzalez noted that his entrant, Awesome Fire, was the only member of the field of nine who had not raced on turf.

But Awesome Fire apparently was unaware of the possible repercussions as she closed from last place to score by a half-length under rider Chantal Sutherland in the 1 1/4-mile Wonder Where for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Gonzalez, while acknowledging that the turf was something of a question mark, had some reason to believe that Awesome Fire would handle the new surface.

“In my 40 years of training, I’ve found that horses who go over the mud easy go over the turf easy,” the 60-year-old trainer said. “She had a lot of experience in the mud training at Fort Erie as a baby and at Gulfstream this winter, and all her riders said she just glided over it. She has a fluid stride. She doesn’t hit the ground that hard.”

Gonzalez also saw the Wonder Where distance as a positive for Awesome Fire.

“I didn’t think the distance would be a problem; she has lots of stamina,” Gonzalez said.

Awesome Fire was completing the triple tiara cycle for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies after finishing a closing third in the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks here June 3 and an even fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Bison City on July 1.

“She’s been compromised by slow paces in a lot of her races,” Gonzalez said.

All analysis aside, the stars aligned in Awesome Fire’s favor as she recorded her first stakes win and took home first prize of $150,000 in the $250,400 Wonder Where.

Sutherland, who guided Awesome Fire to a third-place finish here in last fall’s 1 1/16-mile Ontario Lassie, had flown in from Del Mar to ride the filly for her brother, owner Hugh Sutherland.

And while the popular Sutherland enjoyed her triumphant homecoming, the Woodbine stewards were forced to put a bit of a damper on the party when they fined her $3,000 for “excessive use of the whip” during the stretch run.

The Grade 3, $150,000 Ontario Colleen, an open one-mile turf race here Aug. 25, is the next race on the schedule for 3-year-old fillies.

“It might be something to take a look at,” said Gonzalez. “But she’s only had a month and a half break, when she was in Ocala, since last December. There’s going to be a point where we have to cool it. Maybe if we give her a little break, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”

Casse gets hat trick of stakes wins

Gonzalez was the only trainer not named Mark Casse to be represented by a stakes winner here last weekend.

Casse, while on the road, watched Roxy Gap win Sunday’s Grade 3, $187,000 Royal North from Monmouth after viewing Saturday victories by Uncaptured in the $150,000 Duchess and Spirited Miss in the $153,400 Duchess from Saratoga,

Patrick Husbands rode Casse’s three stakes winners, bringing his meet-leading total to 11.

Casse has been represented by a meet-leading 12 stakes winners, with nine of those ridden by Husbands.

Roxy Gap, a homebred 4-year-old mare who races for Eugene Melnyk, was recording her third stakes score here this year for the Casse-Husbands juggernaut.

This spring, Roxy Gap captured the Grade 3, six-furlong Whimsical and Grade 2, 6 1/2-furlong Hendrie on the main track.

“She’s had a pretty tough campaign, and she’s lightened up on us pretty good,” Casse said. “We’re going to just give her a little break, get a few more pounds on her, and let her tell us when she’s ready to go.”

Uncaptured, now unbeaten in three starts after winning the six-furlong Vandal, and Spirited Miss, who was becoming a stakes winner in the open seven-furlong Duchess, both are owned by John Oxley.

The Vandal was Uncaptured’s second stakes success following his romp in the 5 1/2-furlong Clarendon for Ontario-breds here June 30.

“The plan is that if all goes well, he can come back in the Swynford and then run in the Grey,” Casse said. “I love him stretching out.”

Uncaptured, a $290,000 yearling purchase in Kentucky, would be moving into open company for the seven-furlong, $150,000 Swynford on Sept. 9 and the Grade 3, $200,000, 1 1/16-mile Grey on Oct. 7.

Spirited Miss, bred by her owner in Kentucky, was making just her second start of the season after winning a first-level allowance at six furlongs here June 10.

Casse said that Spirited Miss, who was a member of his string at Palm Meadows, had taken ill while on the verge of starting at Gulfstream and had wound up spending a month and a half on the farm.

“She almost didn’t make it,” said Casse, adding that the obviously rejuvenated Spirited Miss could return in the Ontario Colleen.

Spirited Miss won over six furlongs of turf in her debut here last Aug. 27 and then finished fourth, beaten seven lengths, in a difficult renewal of the Grade 3 Natalma over one mile on the same course three weeks later.

“She had a bit of a troubled trip in the Natalma,” Casse said.

Baker has pair for Saratoga stakes

Hunters Bay and Tu Endie Wei, both trained by Reade Baker, left Woodbine on Monday morning for Saratoga with eyes upon Saturday stakes.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, is the target for Hunters Bay. Emma-Jayne Wilson retains the mount on Hunters Bay, who won the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Eclipse in his last start here July 1.

Tu Endie Wei, who finished third in Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies when making her dirt debut July 7, is returning to New York for the Grade 1, $300,000 Prioress at the same distance and for the same set.

Julien Leparoux retains the mount on Tu Endie Wei.