Betting the Ontario Colleen Stakes on a Budget

Walk In Marrakesh (far right), second by a nose in the 2019 Natalma at Woodbine, will attempt to win the Ontario Colleen
Walk In Marrakesh (far right), second by a nose in the 2019 Natalma at Woodbine, will attempt to win the Ontario Colleen (Kaz Ishida/Eclipse Sportswire)

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse has won the Ontario Colleen Stakes in two of the last three years and trains four of the seven 3-year-old fillies entered in the one-mile turf race Aug. 29 at Woodbine.

Casse’s contingent for the $125,000, Grade 3 race includes a stakes-winning turf sprinter stretching out in distance, a pair of fillies trying turf for the first time, and a filly who looked very promising a year ago but has yet to live up to expectations.

While Casse appears to have a formidable hand and very likely an opportunity to control how the race shapes up from a pace perspective, I strongly believe Walk In Marrakesh (#2) is the class of the field.

The Siyouni filly won three of five starts in Europe and was Group 2-placed overseas before coming to North America and finishing second by a nose in the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes on the turf at Woodbine last September.

She is winless in four starts this year, but Walk In Marrakesh ran second by a head in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs in March and enters off a runner-up finish by a nose in the Grade 2 Appalachian Stakes Presented by The Japan Racing Association July 11 at Keeneland. Walk In Marrakesh led into deep stretch in the Appalachian but was caught in the final strides by fast-closing Enola Gay.

In the two races in between, Walk In Marrakesh encountered traffic trouble, including an unplaced finish in the Tepin Stakes at Churchill Downs, which was won by 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Sharing. In the Tepin, Walk In Marrakesh was hemmed in through much of the stretch and never really had a chance.

I don’t expect Walk In Marrakesh to encounter much in the way of traffic trouble on this outer Woodbine turf course with only seven horses and plenty of real estate, so I expect she’ll have a great chance to prove she is best.

Taking a closer look at Casse’s four runners, Fly So Pretty (#3) won the Stewart Manor Stakes last November at Aqueduct, but her worst race to date on the turf came when stretching out to a mile and she showed little when seventh most recently in the Coronation Cup Stakes July 31 at Saratoga. Chart (#6) improved when switching from dirt to the synthetic main track at Woodbine, but her worst race to date also came when stretching out to a mile and I’m not sure she’s fast enough.

I prefer Casse’s other two runners, Two Sixty (#4) and Diamond Sparkles (#5). The latter ran fourth last year in the aforementioned Grade 1 Natalma Stakes but was only beaten by 1 ¾ lengths. She has been inconsistent since then, but with back class and success on this turf course she has appeal at 8-1 on the morning line. Two Sixty enters off a win in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes going 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Tapeta Footings surface at Woodbine. She looks like the controlling speed and showed nice improvement when shifting from dirt to synthetic.

My plan is to key Walk In Marrakesh on top in an exacta and use the likely pacesetter Two Sixty and deep closer Diamond Sparkles for second underneath.

Strategy on a $20 Budget

$10 exacta: 2 with 4,5 ($20)

What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, seventh race, $10 exacta 2 with 4,5

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