09/13/2013 12:45PM

Woodbine: Forte Dei Marmi seeks first Grade 1 score in Northern Dancer Turf

Michael Burns
Forte Dei Marmi, the winner of the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes last month, seeks his first Grade 1 victory Sunday in the Northern Dancer Turf.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – A Grade 1 victory would be a feather in Forte Dei Marmi’s cap and would significantly improve his chances of becoming the 2013 Canadian Horse of the Year. The durable 7-year-old will get an opportunity for that elusive score while going 1 1/2 miles in Sunday’s $300,000 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes, the main supporting feature on Woodbine Mile Day.

Forte Dei Marmi won the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes for the second consecutive year here Aug. 18 while lowering the course record for 1 1/4 miles on turf. After racing in fifth on the backstretch, he commenced a three-wide rally on the far turn and hit the front near the eighth pole before scooting away for a 2 1/4-length tally. His final time was 2:00.12, and he ran the last half-mile over a sunbaked course in a sizzling 46.60 seconds.

“It was quite amazing,” trainer Roger Attfield said. “Last year, I jarred him up on hard turf.”

Attfield said it took awhile for Forte Dei Marmi to come around this year.

“I probably gave him too much time off for an older horse this winter, and it took me a long time to get him back on track again,” Attfield said. “Physically, he’s great, and he suddenly came around at the right time of the year.”

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Attfield also entered the lightly raced 4-year-old Perfect Timber, who made a smooth transition from allowance to stakes company when he checked in second to Forte Dei Marmi in the Grade 3 Singspiel over yielding ground July 7. Perfect Timber was a non-threatening sixth in the Sky Classic.

“The [slow] pace wasn’t suitable for him,” Attfield said. “He ran a good race, but he can’t quicken the way Forte Dei Marmi can. He’s a huge horse who needed lots of time. Forte Dei Marmi is like a little terrier.”

Hampstead Heath finished second in both the Grade 2 Nijinsky and the Sky Classic, perhaps the two best performances of his career. He was cross-entered in Saturday’s PTHA President’s Cup at Parx, but he is expected to run in the Northern Dancer.

Turkish is jumping up off a gutsy triumph over a sharp Renegade Man in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race that came on the heels of his maiden victory going 1 1/4 miles in his 10th start. Trainer Reade Baker said a key to Turkish’s improvement has been running him in longer routes.

“We never ran him at the proper distance before,” Baker said. “That, and he’s a late bloomer. Everything seems to be coming to hand. There aren’t many [1 1/2-mile] races, so we’ll give it a try.”

Hotep, winless in his last 10 outings, set the early pace en route to a fourth-place finish in the Sky Classic.

Irish Mission, a dual Canadian champion in 2012, will take on the boys again after fading to fifth in the Sky Classic. She romped in her previous outing in a 1 3/8-mile allowance race for fillies and mares.

Stormy Len is testing older opposition off a second at Arlington in the Grade 1 Secretariat, in which he surrendered a three-length lead in the final furlong.