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Leading Astray & Heavenly Landing Clash in Marshua’s River
Team Block’s highly-consistent Leading Astray faces older fillies and mares for the first time in Saturday’s $100,000 Marshua’s River Stakes (G3), including Summerplace Farm’s defending champion Heavenly Landing in the 1 1/16 miles turf test.
Jockey Jose Lezcano gets the call on Leading Astray for trainer Chris Block as she makes her first start since finishing a game second in the Mrs. Revere Stakes (G2) against fillies her own age at Churchill Downs on Nov. 17. The Illinois homebred chestnut daughter of Belong to Me scored her biggest victory in the Pucker Up Stakes (G3) at Arlington Park in mid-September and brings an 8-5-2-1 record into Saturday’s race.
“She’s been doing real well. She had a good year last year. She’s had a series of works here, and I think she’s doing as well as she can be going into this race on Saturday,” said Block, who has done very well here in recent seasons with a small, but select string of high-class runners, including 2011 Donn Handicap (G1) winner Giant Oak and turf stakes mares Askbut Iwon’ttell and Never Retreat.
Heavenly Landing won a hard-fought nose decision in the Marshua River last year for trainer Eddie Kenneally with jockey Corey Lanerie flying in from New Orleans for the mount. Lanerie will be aboard Saturday, although he will not have to travel as he is based here this winter.
A 6-year-old daughter of Pulpit, Heavenly Landing showed promise on the main track early in her career, but found her best stride on turf winning the Marshua’s River after turf allowance victories at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. She makes her first start since winning a turf allowance at Keeneland on Oct. 5 after runner-up finishes in the Mint Julep Handicap (G3) at Churchill and Eatontown Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Another contender with a stakes victory over the course in the field of 10 fillies and mares drawn for the Marshua’s River is Stride Rite Racing’s 4-year-old homebred Frolic’s Revenge with jockey Luis Saez aboard for trainer Milt Wolfson. The daughter of Vindication won the Ginger Brew Stakes in late 2011 before finishing third in the Sweetest Chant behind emerging star Dayatthespa in January. She makes her first start since an allowance victory on turf at Calder on Nov. 25.
"My only concern is that I lose Paco (Lopez) to ride in New York that day, but I pick up (Luis) Saez, who is having a great meet,” said Wolfson. “She’s training great right now and we’re looking forward to the race. She has run well on turf and dirt, but I’m not sure she likes the main track over there after she didn’t run very well in the Davona Dale (7th) last year.”
Certain to get support despite making her first start since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last spring is Hillsbrook Farm’s 4-year-old Hard Not to Like to be ridden by Joe Rocco, Jr. as she makes her first start for trainer Michael Matz.
A daughter of Harp Spun, Hard Not to Like was developed in Canada as a 2-year-old in 2011 by trainer Gail Cox when she beat colts in the Canadian-bred Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine and finished a good fifth behind Stephanie’s Kitten in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup juvenile Fillies Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs, beaten three lengths for it all.
Another contender in a wide-open field will be Isabel Peter Hoblyn’s 5-year-old Irish-bred Chokurei and Joe Bravo in the saddle for trainer Mark Frostad. The daughter of Bertolini just missed last out finishing second by a neck behind favorite Romacaca in the South Beach Stakes going 7 ½ furlongs over the course on Dec. 9. Chokurei won four of 10 starts in Ireland prior placing in three stakes last year at Woodbine for Frostad.
Completing the field for the Marshua’s River are Charles Middleton III’s Affair Dabbler, Jozbin Santana; James Scatourchio’s Channel Lady, Javier Castellano; Town and Country Farms’ Frontside, Joel Rosario; Tim O’Donohue’s Filare l’Oro, Alan Garcia; and IEAH Stables and Resolute Group’s Fantasy of Flight, John Velazquez.