Updated on 09/20/2011 3:18PM

Woodbine: Breeders' Cup-bound Northern Passion will head to Churchill early

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Michael Burns
Northern Passion is guaranteed a breth in the BC Juvenile Filllies Turf, but trainer Mark Casse wants to see how she will train on Churchill's dirt track.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – No local horses emerged from last Sunday’s Woodbine Mile program as legitimate contenders for the Breeders’ Cup.

But, Woodbine’s first potential Breeders’ Cup representative stepped up to the plate here last Saturday when Northern Passion captured the Natalma Stakes for trainer Mark Casse.

The Natalma, a one-mile turf race for 2-year-old fillies, not only offered Grade 3 status and a purse of $200,000 but was part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In challenge series and earned Northern Passion a fees-paid berth in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

“We’re going straight to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Casse, who conditions Northern Passion for owner John Oxley.

“We have stalls at Churchill Downs. We’ll take her down early, and see how she trains over the dirt. So far, she‘s won on two surfaces.

“I’ve always said all along that horses that run on Polytrack run well at Churchill. It’s probably a longshot, but we may even entertain the idea of running her in the dirt race,” the Juvenile Fillies.

Though Northern Passion has an automatic, fees-paid berth for the Juvenile Fillies Turf, that consideration would not apply should Casse choose to run the horse in the Juvenile Fillies.

Northern Passion, bred in Ontario by the late Mel Lawson, was a $220,000 purchase at Ocala this March.

After winning at first asking over 5 1/2 furlongs of Polytrack here July 9, Northern Passion traveled 6 1/2 furlongs for the Ontario Debutante and fell just a half-length short when second to the odds-on Tu Endie Wei.

In the Natalma, Northern Passion trailed the field of 12 with a half-mile to run but then launched an inside move under regular rider Luis Contreras and prevailed by a length over Saratoga shipper Dayatthespa.

“I thought her race was outstanding”, said Casse, who was at Keeneland and watched the race there along with his wife, Tina, and owner Bill Farish Jr. in a private room in the sales pavilion.

“I was a little worried down the backstretch. I thought she wasn’t handling the grass, she was so far back.

“I must have had 25 people come up to me at the sale, and tell me how impressed they were.”

Casse points two fillies to Mazarine

Northern Passion was one of four Casse-conditioned fillies in the Natalma along with Spirited Miss, Sky Dreamer, and Quality Lass.

Homebreds who were foaled in Kentucky and race for Oxley, Spirited Miss and Sky Dreamer both were coming into the Natalma after winning six-furlong maiden turf races in their only previous outings and finished fourth and seventh, respectively.

“Spirited Miss was intimidated at the three-eighths pole, backed out of it, and came running again,” said Casse.

“Sky Dreamer was bumped around at the top of the stretch but she galloped out very strongly afterward

“My plan with both those fillies is to see how they train, and run them back in the Mazarine.

“The only reason I ran them on turf in their first starts was because of the Natalma. I think they’re equally talented on Polytrack. They train very well on it.”

The $200,000 Mazarine, a 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old fillies, will be run here Oct. 8.

Quality Lass, purchased for $82,000 in Ocala this past March, set the early pace in the Natalma but faded to finish more than 18 lengths behind the winner in 10th place.

“She was real rank early; she didn’t want to settle,” said Casse. “For her to get a mile, she needed to settle.

“She came out of the race good. We’ll aim her for the Fanfreluche.”

The $150,000 Fanfreluche, a six-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 2-year-old fillies, will be run here Oct. 23.

Dayatthespa not Breeders’ Cup eligible

Dayatthespa, making just her second career start in the Natalma after winning her debut over 5 1/2 furlongs of turf at Saratoga six weeks earlier, acquitted herself well in defeat.

And, while the Juvenile Fillies Turf would seem to be a logical target, Dayatthespa currently is not eligible to the Breeders’ Cup program.

“We’d have to supplement her – otherwise, it would be a no-brainer,” said trainer Chad Brown.

“I was really happy with her race, and she seemed to come out of her race well. She did a lot of the work up front, and was still there late.”

No specific plan for Excaper

Excaper, based here with trainer Ian Black, was beaten three-quarters of a length as the runner-up to New York shipper Finale in the Grade 3 Summer Stakes, another Win and You’re In race for 2-year-olds over a mile of turf here last Saturday.

Bred in Kentucky by his owners Nancy and Richard Kaster, Excaper was making just his second career start in the $250,000 Summer after winning first crack out over six furlongs on the main track.

“I was really happy with his race,” said Black. “It was a very good, for an unseasoned horse to go into the race and do that.”

As of Tuesday, Black said there were “no immediate plans” for Excaper.