05/14/2012 12:56PM

Woodbine: Strait of Dover has sights on Queen's Plate after Marine Stakes victory

Michael Burns
Strait of Dover, with Justin Stein riding, wins the Marine Stakes.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Strait of Dover stamped himself a serious Queen’s Plate candidate here last Saturday with a 6 1/2-length victory in the $156,300 Marine Stakes.

Racing around two turns for the first time and making his stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Marine, Strait of Dover pressed the pace of the front-running Incredicat and drew off through the stretch under a hand ride by Justin Stein.

“When you run a horse in a stake, you feel like you’re in the right spot,” said Danny Vella, who trains the homebred Strait of Dover for British Columbia-based Wally and Terry Leong. “But you’re always pleasantly surprised when the run that well. He was pretty convincing, I thought.”

Strait Dover, who began his career with two mediocre efforts on the dirt at Hastings, obviously has taken to the Polytrack here as he has crossed the wire first in each of his four outings, although he was disqualified on the first occasion.

In his only previous start this year, Strait of Dover had scored in front-running fashion in a seven-furlong allowance for nonwinners other than maiden or claiming.

“I had a pretty good idea that he’d get the trip,” said the 56-year-old Vella, who has been training for more than 27 years. “But when you’ve been in the business a long time, you’re always cautious about this type of thing.”

Strait of Dover could make his next start in the $150,000 Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds here June 3. The $1 million Queen’s Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for the same set, will be run June 24.

“We’re kind of going to let the horse tell us,” Vella said. “Six weeks is a little too long to wait; he might be too sharp. He tends to be a tough horse, very good feeling.”

Classic Bryce gets another second

Classic Bryce, who ended the runner-up to Incredicat when making his seasonal bow here in the 1 1/16-mile Wando, finished second again in the Marine in another good effort.

“We were joyfully happy with his race,” said Darwin Banach, who trains the homebred Classic Bryce for Bill Sorokolit. “It was just another step.”

Classic Bryce also could return in the Plate Trial, but Banach is not fully committed to that route.

“We might just wait and go straight to the Plate,” Banach said. “There’s a lot of racing left, and I think his fitness level is where we want it to be right now.

“We want a fresh horse going in [to the Queen’s Plate]. I just hope he’s not getting accustomed to finishing second.”

Incredicat disappoints in Marine

The disappointment in the Marine was Incredicat, who had been a front-running winner of the Wando but faltered to finish last of sixth this time after leading into the stretch.

Ian Black, who trains Incredicat for a partnership that includes the colt’s breeder, David Willmot, believes the different pace scenario in the Marine had a deleterious effect on his charge.

“When he won the first time, he finished so good after running three-quarters in 1:14,” Black said. “On Saturday, the horse laying second [Strait of Dover] made him go in 1:12. Take nothing away from the winner; he made him do it.”

Black had hoped that Incredicat might get a stalking trip after drawing outside in the Marine’s field of six.

“I thought we might have an opportunity to lay off it,” Black said. “But he always breaks so sharp.

“The truth is, he really isn’t a two-turn horse.”

Black said he planned to breeze Incredicat on the grass before deciding on his next move.

“There’s nothing for a 3-year-old sprinter here until the Achievement,” said Black, noting that the six-furlong stakes for Ontario-breds would be run on July 2.

Dixie Street bounces back in Selene

Dixie Street, highly regarded as both a Woodbine Oaks and Queen’s Plate candidate this winter, made a triumphant homecoming here Sunday with a 3 3/4-length win in the Grade 3, $280,000 Selene Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

“I thought she was spectacular,” said Mark Casse who trains Dixie Strike for owner John Oxley and watched the Selene from his farm in Ocala, Fla. “She’s always acted like she’s special, but her last couple of races were disappointing. [Sunday], she was on her game.”

Dixie Strike had won the 1 1/16-mile Florida Oaks on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs, but then finished fourth in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride over 1 1/8 miles of turf at Gulfstream and a troubled fifth over one mile of Polytrack at Keeneland.

Dixie Strike had run well in two 1 1/16-mile races here last fall, finishing second in the Princess Elizabeth and then winning the Ontario Lassie on the final weekend of the meeting under her regular local rider Patrick Husbands.

“It sure looks like she likes the track,” Casse said. “But what she really likes more than anything is dirt. She trained better at Palm Meadows than any horse I had down there.”

Casse said Dixie Strike probably would make her next start in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies on June 3.

“There’s an outside shot we’d go straight to the Queen’s Plate,” said Casse, who also sent out Queen’s Plate hopeful Golden Ridge for an impressive 1 1/16-mile maiden victory in Sunday’s 10th race.

The disappointment in the Selene was the 1-2 favorite Tu Endie Wei, winner of four sprint stakes. She was unable to last, despite setting what should have been a very manageable pace in her second attempt at two turns.

“No excuse; it was just too far for her,” said Reade Baker, who trains the homebred Tu Endie Wei for Brereton C. Jones. “She’ll be going back to one turn.”

Keough pair target Connaught Cup

The promising but unlucky Artic Fern got back on target here in Saturday’s off-the-turf prep for the Connaught Cup over 6 1/2 furlongs of Polytrack.

“He’s always a tough horse to deal with,” trainer Mike Keogh said. “It’s never a surprise to come into the barn and find something different wrong with him.”

Keogh, who trains the homebred Artic Fern for Gustav Schickedanz, also sent out the turf specialist Welloiledmachine to finish a good fourth in what was his seasonal bow.

“I was delighted with both of them,” Keogh said. “I thought Welloiledmachine was going to catch them all at the eighth pole. I just ran him there to get a race into him.”

All remaining well, both Artic Fern and Welloiledmachine will swing back in the May 27 Connaught Cup, a seven-furlong turf race that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $150,000.