08/16/2013 1:32PM

Woodbine: Forte dei Marmi regains form in time to defend Sky Classic title

Michael Burns
Forte dei Marmi comes into the Sky Classic off a dominant performance in last month's Singspiel.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Forte dei Marmi won last year’s Sky Classic Stakes, and will be looking to duplicate that feat in Sunday’s renewal of the 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and upward at Woodbine.

The eight-horse field for the Grade 2, $200,000 Sky Classic also includes Irish Mission, who will be looking to become the first filly to win the race since its current incarnation began in 1997.

Forte dei Marmi, who went on to finish third here last year in both the Grade 1 Northern Dancer and Grade 1 Canadian International, had disappointed in four subsequent starts before coming to life here in the July 7 Singspiel Stakes.

The 1 1/2-mile Singspiel was run during a driving rainstorm over a course that was becoming softer by the second, but Forte dei Marmi was well in command when sighted turning for home and went on to score by 6 1/4 lengths.

“He’s in great shape,” said Roger Attfield, who conditions the 7-year-old gelding Forte dei Marmi for Stella Perdomo. “I don’t think going back to a mile and a quarter will make much difference to him. The course might be a bit firm for him – he prefers quite a bit of give to the ground. But you can’t have it every which way.”

Joel Rosario rode Forte dei Marmi in the Singpspiel, which was run on Queen’s Plate Day, and Eurico Rosa Da Silva gets the call for the Sky Classic.

Perfect Timber completed an Attfield exacta in the Singspiel. He was making just his fourth start and his first in stakes company after having won an off-the-turf entry-level allowance at 1 1/4 miles in his local debut.

“He likes the soft ground, too,” said Attfield. “But he’s been working very well on firm going. I think he’s getting better.”

Steven Bahen retains the mount on Perfect Timber, a 4-year-old who was bred in Ontario by his owner, Chuck Fipke.

Trainer Brian Lynch also has a potent pair for the Sky Classic in Hampstead Heath and Grand Arch, the 2-3 finishers in the Grade 2 Nijinsky over 1 1/8 miles of turf here July 21.

Grand Arch, the 2-1 favorite there off an impressive score under second-level allowance terms over 1 1/8 miles of turf, pressed the pace of longshot Artic Fern in the Nijinsky before weakening slightly to be beaten a length.

“He pressed a strong pace and set it up for the others,” said Lynch. “He doesn’t need to be ridden like that. I’d like to see him settle off the pace.”

Luis Contreras retains the mount on Grand Arch.

Hampstead Heath ran the best race of his career in the Nijinsky, closing strongly to be beaten just three-quarters of a length after being involved in some bumping during the stretch run.

“He certainly took a step forward that day,” said Lynch. “You’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt that he can’t do it again. If he gets covered up and it becomes a sprint home, he can be very effective.

Emma-Jayne Wilson has picked up the mount on Hampstead Heath.

Irish Mission, who won the Breeders’ Stakes last year when facing males for the first time, gets into the Sky Classic with 112 pounds and will be ridden for the first time by Gary Boulanger.

Mark Frostad trains Irish Mission, who was Canada’s champion female and champion turf filly last year.

Rounding out the Sky Classic’s field of eight are Classic Bryce, Hotep, and Peyton.

Maiden tries Breeders’ off sprint

Many trainers might not be taking on a 1 1/2-mile mile race with a maiden who has raced just once in the last nine months, with that start coming in a six-furlong turf race.

But Carolyn Costigan, 32, marches to her own drummer and likes her position with Bookies Nightmare heading into Sunday’s $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes, the 1 1/2-mile turf race that is the final leg of the Triple Crown for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

“After we shut him down last year, his target has been the Breeders’,” said Costigan. “Basically he had the entire winter off. We turned him out down at Payson Park.”

Bookies Nightmare was claimed for $32,000 from his debut here last September and went on to finish fourth in three consecutive races, including a 1 1/16-mile maiden turf race in which he was beaten a length and the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, where he was well back in fourth.

Returning to action in a six-furlong maiden turf race here July 27, Bookies Nightmare performed respectably when ending a close sixth under regular rider David Moran.

“I think his last race will set him up nicely,” said Costigan. “He’s training very strongly.”

Bookies Nightmare latest prep was a 51.40-second breeze on the turf training course here last Friday under exercise rider Janna Bray.

“Jenna said he was just getting organized by the time they got to the half,” said Costigan. “She really liked the way she handled it.”

Nancy O nearing comeback

Costigan didn’t shy away from challenges last year with Nancy O, who finished a troubled third here in the Grade 2 Natalma Stakes and an unlucky ninth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita while finishing her first campaign winless in five starts.

Now, Costigan is looking forward to the imminent return of Nancy O, an Irish-bred 3-year-old who was bred by her father, Bob Costigan, and races for him in partnership.

“She had a little bit of bone bruising toward the end of February at Payson Park,” said Costigan. “She’s been training exceptionally well.

Costigan said she considered running Nancy O in Saturday’s Ontario Colleen for 3-year-old fillies “but looking at her blood work she wasn’t quite right.”

Welloiledmachine tunes up for Halton

Welloiledmachine, trained by Mike Keogh, breezed five furlongs in 59 on the turf training course here Friday with an eye toward the $125,000 Halton, the yearling sales stakes over one mile of turf which he won last year for owners Christine and Dennis Windsor.

“He went very well,” said Keogh, who gave jockey Jim McAleney a leg up for the drill. “He did it nice and relaxed, which is what we wanted to see.”

The Halton will be one of six stakes on the yearling sales stakes program, which will be run on a Wednesday evening for the first time here Aug. 28.

◗ Woodbine-based jockey Gerry Olguin will be at Emerald Downs on Sunday to ride Golden Itiz in the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile. Golden Itiz, claimed from his last start for $62,500 at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 7, will be making his first appearance for trainer John Sadler and Vancouver-based owner K.K. Sangara.