05/10/2013 1:14PM

Woodbine notes: Alpha Bettor looks to surprise again in Eclipse Stakes

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Michael Burns
Alpha Bettor, the winner of the Grade 3 Seagram Cup last August, will try for his second stakes score in Sunday's Grade 2 Eclipse.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Alpha Bettor played the role of stakes upsetter here last summer, capturing the Grade 3 Seagram Cup at odds of 23-1.

On Sunday, Alpha Bettor will look to enjoy another moment in the limelight as he makes his first start of the season in the Grade 2 Eclipse at the same 1 1/16-mile distance.

“He had some time off, but he’s ready,” said Danny Vella, who trains Alpha Bettor and is part of the ownership group Bulldog Racing.

Alpha Bettor, a Kentucky-bred 5-year-old, concluded his 2012 campaign with a solid fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Autumn, also at 1 1/16 miles, here Nov. 10. After wintering in Florida, Alpha Bettor returned to Woodbine in early April and has been training solidly, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.60 here Monday.

“It was a super work,” Vella said.

Big Band Sound, a solid performer for Vella last season before being sidelined by injury in October, also has been back at Woodbine since the beginning of April and is gearing up for a return to the races.

Big Band Sound, a 6-year-old Kentucky-bred who races for Kendel Standlee and breeder Richard Shultz, won the Grade 2 Play the King over seven furlongs on turf here last summer after finishing second here in four consecutive stakes.

Those placings came in the six-furlong Jacques Cartier and seven-furlong Vigil on the main track and the seven-furlong Connaught Cup and one-mile King Edward on turf.

“After his last race, he went straight to the farm and had three months off,” said Vella, who had watched Big Band Sound finish an uncharacteristic fifth in the seven-furlong Mt. Sassafras here Oct. 27. “We haven’t got to the point where we’re really turning him on, but we’re getting to that part. He’s an older horse; we’ll take our time with him. It would be nice to make the Highlander with him, but if we don’t, we don’t.”

The Highlander, a six-furlong turf race that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $200,000, will be run here July 7, Queen’s Plate Day.

Vella, who won last year’s Queen’s Plate with Strait of Dover, hopes to return to the big dance with Sweet Little Man, who finished a solid second when making his seasonal debut in a first-level allowance at seven furlongs here last Sunday.

“He was in Kentucky all winter, and he was running against some winter-raced horses here,” said Vella, who trains Sweet Little Man for owner and breeder Don Amos. “He’ll improve a ton off that. We’re going to look for a two-turn race, maybe the Marine.”

The $150,000 Marine, an open, 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds, will be run here May 26.

Sweet Little Man has yet to race beyond seven furlongs, the distance at which he graduated in his fourth career start last fall, but Vella said longer trips will be within his scope.

“He trains that way, acts that way, and he’s bred that way,” Vella said. “We’ll have to find out.”

Meanwhile, Strait of Dover continues his slow but steady march back to racing fitness after being sidelined by a suspensory issue last August while preparing for the Breeders’ Stakes.

Strait of Dover, the Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s champion 3-year-old male, spent the fall and winter on the farm in Ontario and returned to the racetrack in March.

“He’s coming,” said Vella, adding that Strait of Dover has been galloping for several weeks. “We’re taking our time. I don’t even want to guess at when he may be back.”

Vella also said Wyomia, the Kentucky-bred mare whom he trained for Edward Seltzer and Beverly Anderson, has been retired to the breeding shed.

Wyomia raced for Vella as a 2-year-old in 2010, winning two races here, including the Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes, and then finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs.

After making eight starts for trainer Curtis Garrison south of the border, Wyomia returned to Woodbine and Vella to conclude her career with a second-place finish in the Grade 3, seven-furlong Bessarabian on Nov. 24.

Wyomia retired with a record of 12-3-2-2 and earnings of $344,515.

Three stakes for holiday weekend

The first long weekend of the 2013 meeting is near, and stakes are scheduled each day from Saturday through Monday, May 18-20.

The six-furlong Ballade, a $125,000 race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares, goes Saturday. On Sunday, the Grade 3, $150,000 Selene, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, offers the final local stepping-stone to the June 9 Woodbine Oaks. On Monday, the six-furlong New Providence, restricted to offspring of Ontario sires, offers a $125,000 to 3-year-olds and up.

Multiple stakes winner Moonlit Beauty is scheduled to make her seasonal bow in the Ballade for trainer John LeBlanc.

Bear’s Gem, winner of her last four starts here last fall, also is scheduled to make her 2013 debut for trainer Reade Baker.

The April 28 prep for the New Providence produced a wild finish, and top-three finishers Executive Five, Paso Doble, and Raincoat’sntuxedos all are expected back for the main event. Haverhill and Royal Egbert, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers that day, and Jenna’s Wabbit, a disappointing seventh, also are on target for the New Providence.

Spring Venture, winner of the Grade 2 Natalma and Grade 3 Mazarine here last year and the runner-up to stablemate Spring in the Air in the voting for Canada’s champion 2-year-old filly, heads the local contingent for the Selene.

Nipissing, who suffered her first defeat this spring in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Ashland after going undefeated in four outings here last year, is scheduled to use the Selene as her springboard to the $500,000, 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks.

Stakes doubleheaders are on tap for the weekend of May 25-26, with the Nassau and Lady Angela scheduled for that Saturday and the Connaught Cup and Marine scheduled for that Sunday.

The one-mile Nassau, for fillies and mares, and the seven-furlong Connaught Cup would be the first turf stakes of the season. Both offer Grade 2 status and purses of $200,000.