Grass is Greener for Heavenly Landing in Marshua's River
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Heavenly Landing looked like a future stakes star from the moment she broke her maiden with a three-length victory at Saratoga on Aug. 23, 2009. It just took eight more starts and a switch from dirt to turf to realize her potential in Saturday’s $100,000 Marshua’s River (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
Heavenly Landing, a 19-1 long shot ridden by Corey Lanerie, overcame a troubled trip to close with a rush to catch La Reine Lionne by a nose at the finish of the 1 1/16-mile turf race to win her first stakes and her third-straight race since trainer Eddie Kenneally made the switch to turf.
“Man, she’s just turned around once they put her on the turf. I don’t know what it is, but I like it. She was much the best in there today,” said Lanerie, who traveled from his base at Fair Grounds to ride Heavenly Landing. “My trip wasn’t the greatest but thankfully I found some room just in the nick of time. It might have been close at the wire, but I think she was by far the best horse today.”
Lanerie settled Heavenly Landing off the pace set by Wallis, who was rushed from her outside post position to grab the lead that she carried into the stretch before tiring. La Reine Lionne, who was slow to settle for jockey John Velazquez while closely attending the pace, shot to the lead in the stretch before being quickly challenged by Tapitsfly and jockey Javier Castellano.
The heated battle between La Reine Lionne and Tapitsfly nearly the wire was suddenly joined by Heavenly Landing, who found room late after being blocked in the stretch and soared over the turf to make it a three-horse photo.
“She had a terrible trip running into traffic trouble. It would have been huge just to be second or third after that, but she found a seam and ran through, then got the bob (to win) at the wire,” said Kenneally, whose 5-year-old daughter of Pulpit ran the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:41.70.
Heavenly Landing ($40.80) got his nose to the wire first, as La Reine Lionne out-gamed Tapitsfly by a head for second money.
“I’ve been on the other end of them, too. I wouldn’t have run her in her if I didn’t think she could win, so I’m not surprised the way she ran. I run to win and I didn’t win today, so I’m not happy about it,” said La Reine Lionne’s trainer, Chad Brown. “She just lost the nod there, but Johnny a beautiful race on her. It was the first time riding her. I thought he did a beautiful job. We’ll see how she comes out of the race and go from there.”
After scoring impressively at Saratoga in her third lifetime start, Heavenly Landing went winless while racing competitively for seven more starts. Kenneally entered the Kentucky-bred distaffer in a turf race at Saratoga on Aug.15, only to see the race taken off the turf and moved to the maintrack. Two starts later at Keeneland on Oct. 21, Heavenly Landing made her turf debut and responded with a fast-closing victory that she followed up with another off-the-pace on-the-turf score at Churchill Downs a month later.
“She showed considerable promise breaking her maiden on dirt earlier in her career in what seemed like a key race, but then she didn’t achieve what we had hoped for her,” Kenneally said. “With her pedigree top and bottom, we decided to go to turf, but the first time she was entered it came off. Now she’ll stay on turf. We’ll take it one race at a time from here.”