2012 Breeders' Cup Berths On The Line At Woodbine

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 3rd: Horses are lead on and off the rack during the morning exercise session in preparation for the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on November 3, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

A preview of the graded stakes races at Woodbine in Canada on Saturday, September 15th and Sunday, September, 16th, including the Woodbine Mile, Natalma Stakes and Summer Stakes -- in which the winner receives an automatic place in the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.

It's a big weekend of racing in Canada, starting with a pair of stakes races for juveniles on the Woodbine turf course on Saturday afternoon. Both the Natalma Stakes and the Summer Stakes are "Win and You're In" events in the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, securing spots for the winners in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and Juvenile Turf, respectively.

On Sunday, Woodbine will feature four graded stakes races, including the G1-Woodbine Mile and the G1-Northern Dancer. The Woodbine Mile is a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Mile.

All of this weekend's race at Woodbine will be televised by TVG, which is carried on the sports pack by most satellite and cable companies.

Let's take a quick look at the races at Woodbine this weekend and the things "to look for" with an eye towards the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita:

Grade 2 Natalma Stakes
Saturday, Sept. 15th; Post time: 3:45pm Eastern
One Mile, Turf
Two-years-old; Fillies
Breeders' Cup Challenge Race: Juvenile Fillies Turf

Juvenile stakes races are typically tough to get a read on due to the lack of racing history of the runners and this race is no different. Most of fillies in the Natalma have run one or two times in their entire careers and none have run against grade stakes company. When you throw in the fact that juveniles tend to develop significantly from race to race, a race like the Natalma can be difficult to predict.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

On paper, five fillies stand out in this field: Summer of Fun, Spring in the Air, Kitten's Dumplings, Coconut Shrimp and Tiz Ro. A win by any of those fillies will stamp them as a top contender at the Breeders' Cup. However, keep an eye out for a strong run but a poor trip by one of the non-winning fillies. A juvenile can develop significantly over a period of five or six weeks; a filly that runs a big, non-winning race but has an excuse (such as a bad trip or unfavorable pace) could be a good play at a price at Santa Anita.

There is a lot of speed in the Natalma which should set the race up perfectly for the late running style of Kitten's Dumplings, a Michael Maker trainee that is a very nice 8/1 on the morning line.

Grade 2 Summer Stakes

Saturday, Sept. 15th; Post time: 5:21pm Eastern
One Mile, Turf
Two-years-old; Colts
Breeders' Cup Challenge Race: Juvenile Turf

The Summer Stakes is typically a strong and key race on the road to the Breeders' Cup and has produced recent winners that include Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Dreaming of Anna and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Pluck. This year's field drew only eight colts and doesn't appear to have the top end talent compared to previous editions of the race.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Archer Hill is the morning line favorite at 5/2, but he's a fairly tepid favorite given what appears to be a wide open field. Part of the reason Archer Hill will attract a lot of attention (and dollars) is due to the fact that he broke his maiden at Sarartoga this summer and Saratoga is typically the track with the best juvenile racing in the country. Additionally, the horses that finished second and fourth to Archer Hill at Saratoga came back to win in their next race, with three other horses finishing second in their next start. That's a sign of a strong race and it provides evidence that Archer Hill is the class of this field.

Grade 1 Woodbine Mile
Sunday, Sept. 16th; Post time: 5:42pm Eastern
One Mile, Turf
Three-years-old and up
Breeders' Cup Challenge Race: Mile

Wise Dan is thought by many to be the top North American contender for this year's Breeders' Cup Mile. He'll have an opportunity to cement that status in Sunday's Woodbine Mile when he faces a field of eight rivals, including European raider Cityscape (GB) and top local contenders Riding the River and Big Band Sound.

Since 2006, Wise Dan is one of only 11 horses to have won a graded stakes race on a dirt, turf and synthetic surface. In addition, he's won over a sloppy dirt track twice and, in his last start in the G2-Fourstardave at Saratoga, over a yielding turf course. Simply put, Wise Dan is an exceptionally versatile and talented gelding.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

The key to viewing this race with an eye towards the Breeders' Cup Mile is the relative performance between Wise Dan and the European shipper Cityscape. In his last race, Cityscape finished second in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville to Excelebration (IRE), one of the best milers in Europe. If Wise Dan is able to win convincingly, as he did in the Fourstardave, especially over a talented miler like Excelebration, it bodes well for his chances at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup. If, however, Cityscape comes in to Woodbine and dominates this field, we could be looking at a year where the European runners will be awfully tough to beat in the Mile.

Grade 1 Northern Dancer
Sunday, Sept. 16th; Post time: 4:37pm Eastern
1 ½ Miles, Turf
Three-years-old and up

Scalo (GB) made his North American debut in the G2-Sky Classic at Woodbine back on August 19th, finishing third as the 3/2 favorite. This horse is a good candidate to improve off of that performance when you consider a couple of different factors. First, the Sky Classic was at a mile and a quarter and the Northern Dancer is at a mile and a half; Scalo's running style and prior races suggests the extra distance is exactly what he wants. Second, his race in August was his first after a two month layoff and only his second of 2012; his fitness should be much better in this race.

Forte Dei Marmi (GB) beat Scalo in the Sky Classic last month following a strong run down the middle of the course in the final furlong. He possesses a similar running style as Scalo (hang back early, close hard late), which should help him negotiate the added distance of the race. This will be Forte Dei Marmi's first race at a mile and a half.

Compared to most of his rivals, Scalo's back-class is top notch. He won the Group 1 Pris von Europa in Germany in 2010 and the G2-Gerling-Pries in 2011. Also in 2011, He finished second to Arc winner Danedream (GER) in the G1-Preis von Berlin Deutschland Preis before taking almost a year off from racing.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Scalo and Fore Dei Marmi are the class of the field and should be battling each other out for the win in the final quarter mile. A good run by either horse will likely push their connections to enter the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

Wigmore Hall (IRE) won the Northern Dancer last year but hasn't come close to winning since that day, finishing seventh, sixth and ninth in his last three starts. If Wigmore Hall repeats in the Northern Dancer it could be an added sign of weakness within this year's Turf division.


Grade 2 Canadian Stakes

Sunday, Sept. 15th; Post time: 3:05pm Eastern
1 1/8 Miles, Turf
Three-years-old and up; Fillies & Mares

The field for the Canadian Stakes is decidedly lacking in fillies with early speed, with the exception of Laughing (IRE), winner of the G2-Matchmaker at Monmouth Park in her most recent start. If the ground at Woodbine stays between "Good" and "Firm", Laughing could have an opportunity to steal this race on the front end. If, however, the ground ends up on the soft side, she'll have a much tougher time as her only other start at Woodbine came over a yielding course and resulted in a poor 7th place finish in the 2011 G1-EP Taylor Stakes.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The European runners in the Canadian aren't the strongest of the lot and how they perform against North American runners could give us some clues as to the strength or weakness of each contingent as we roll towards the Breeders'' Cup.

Barefoot Lady (IRE) has just a win in an minor stakes race to her credit over the last year and she hasn't shown top class talent in any of her group races. Kapitale (GER) shipped over for the G1-Beverly D. at Arlington Park on August 18th and finished a respectable but non-threatening 4th behind I'm A Dreamer (IRE), Marketing Mix and Joviality (GB) after a fairly wide trip. A top effort from Kapitale would flatter the top three from the Beverly D.


Grade 3 Ontario Derby

Sunday, Sept. 15th; Post time: 4:04pm Eastern
1 1/8 Miles, Polytrack
Three-years-old

The only non-turf graded stakes race at Woodbine this weekend, the Ontario Derby, probably won't be a significant race on the road to the 2012 Breeders' Cup. Most of the horses in this field have struggled against top quality competition during the year or are Polytrack horses typically based at Woodbine.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Prospective won the G3-Ohio Derby two starts back and won the G2-Tampa Bay Derby in early March when he was on the Triple Crown trail. He entered this year's Kentucky Derby and finished 18th, over 34 lengths behind I'll Have Another. He's run against solid competition all year long and will likely draw some action from the bettors due to his name and the fact that he's 3-for-3 lifetime over the Woodbine Polytrack surface. He should be the one to beat, but don't expect to see him at Santa Anita in November.

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