06/07/2013 9:08AM

Woodbine Oaks to see clash between Spring in the Air and Nipissing

Michael Burns
Spring in the Air won the May 4 Fury Stakes at seven-furlong.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Reigning Canadian champion 2-year-old filly Spring in the Air and the long-winded Nipissing will clash Sunday in the 58th running of the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks. The duo will be the top two betting choices in the nine-furlong test for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, which will go as the eighth on a superb 10-race card.

Joel Rosario, North America’s top jockey, will ride Spring in the Air in the Oaks as well as two other Mark Casse trainees on the card. Rosario will ride Dynamic Sky in the $150,000 Plate Trial Stakes, a key prep for the $1 million Queen’s Plate Stakes, and Spring Venture in the $125,000 Alywow Stakes, a turf sprint for 3-year-old fillies.

The Oaks and Plate Trial will be broadcast on CBC TV from 4-5 p.m. Eastern.

The John Oxley-owned Spring in the Air captured the Grade 1 Alcibiades in October at Keeneland, before running fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. After finishing second in the OBS Championship Stakes in March, she was a well-beaten ninth in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland.

Spring in the Air rebounded here May 4 in the Fury Stakes, winning that seven-furlong sprint from slightly off a tepid pace and earning an 87 Beyer Speed Figure.

“She’s been doing great,” Casse said. “We feel like she’s back to her old self. It’s been a struggle. We had some trouble with her this winter. We were always playing catch-up. She had a little time after the Fury, which helped.”

Casse, who has won the Oaks twice, said he had no qualms with running Spring in the Air 1 1/8 miles.

“I don’t think it will be a problem,” Casse said. “She won the Alcibiades going a mile and a sixteenth.”

Nipissing is one of two Chiefswood Stable fillies in the field, along with Original Script. She was unbeaten at 2 in four starts, which included two restricted stakes scores at 1 1/16 miles.

This year, the Rachel Halden-trained Nipissing was a decent sixth in the Ashland before rallying to finish for second here in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes.

Chiefswood’s general manager, Robert Landry, said Nipissing has progressed nicely leading up to the Oaks, a race he won three times as a jockey.

“The Ashland was obviously a tough spot to start her in,” Landry said. “Rachel wanted to keep her on Poly[track], and didn’t have a lot of options, because she won four races as a juvenile. I thought she ran a good race in the Selene. I think if you let her do what comes natural – stay out of her way early and not force her – then she’ll finish strong. I don’t think distance is an issue for her.”

The Oaks has been a successful Queen’s Plate prep, and Landry said that July 7 fixture open to Canadian-bred males might be the next stop on Nipissing’s schedule.

“You want to take one step at a time, but it’s obviously in the back of our minds,” Landry admitted.

Original Script, trained by Paul Attard, led nearly all the way through soft fractions when she defeated older opposition in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race here May 18.

“She was pretty impressive in her last start,” Landry said. “I think she’ll run well, too. They have two different styles. She’ll keep the pace honest, but she doesn’t have to be on the lead. If someone goes, she’ll sit off them, but we’re not going to let them go a half in 50 [seconds]. Both [jockeys] will have instructions to ride their own race.”

Trainer Malcolm Pierce entered the Sam-Son Farms homebreds Smartyfly and Dance Again.

Smartyfly was beaten just a half-length by Spring in the Air when a she was a wide-closing second in the Fury.

Dance Again has been idle since April 21, when she checked in second in a nine-furlong allowance race on the grass at Keeneland.