TORONTO, May 10 - Canyon Farms homebred Strait of Dover will look to stay the course in Saturday's $150,000 Marine Stakes, at Woodbine.

The English Channel-Bahrain Star colt's form has improved dramatically since shipping to Woodbine in November, and the care of trainer Dan Vella, from Vancouver, following two lacklustre starts around the Hastings Racecourse bull-ring.

"He's a very well-bred horse and he'd run a couple of times in British Columbia, but he just didn't run well," starts Vella. "Of course, it was because he's really not a dirt horse."

Canyon Farm's Wally Leong was pointed in Vella's direction by R.J. Bennett, who raced a few horses at Woodbine with the trainer.

"They sent him out and said we'd like to give him a go here and see if he handles the 'Poly' and the turf,” says Vella. “Right from the start, the first time we breezed him, we knew he was more than an average horse."

Strait of Dover sailed across the finish line first, at odds of 43-1, in his maiden voyage over the Woodbine 'Poly', but was disqualified and place third.

However, the dark bay redeemed himself next time out driving home a length and a half winner at the drastically reduced price of 5-1.

The compact colt continued his winning form on the Polytrack with a strong allowance score to open his three-year-old campaign.

"So far, it's all gone quite well," admits Vella. "Nobody has crossed the wire in front of him."

With things going swimmingly thus far, Strait of Dover will make his first attempt at two-turns, travelling a mile and a sixteenth in his first added-money event. Vella believes his 'Poly'-preferring protégé will relish the trip.

"He's a very easy going type of horse," explains Vella. "He was a little sharp his first start of the year, but in general he has a great attitude and his breeding, being by English Channel, tells me there's a very good chance he should get two turns. He certainly trains that way."

That Strait of Dover's sire had the stamina to capture the one and one-half mile Breeders' Cup Turf adds credence to his two-turn potential on the path to the Queen's Plate (June 24) - - and also, perhaps, a future on Woodbine's E.P Taylor Turf Course.

"Certainly, there's turf in his future and there's turf in his breeding, but at this point our focus is on the Plate if we can get there," says Vella. "He's running well enough on the 'Poly' that we have to think in that direction."

The Marine field, which includes Grade 3 Lexington winner All Squared Away and Wando Stakes champ Incredicat, will provide a telling class test for the improving horse.

"It's come up a stellar bunch," admits Vella. "It's small, but a very tough bunch and I guess we'll figure out just how good he is."

Strait of Dover's versatility - he won on the engine last time out following a pair of off-the-pace efforts - could play an important factor as jockey Justin Stein looks to complete the hat trick.

"Ian Black's horse (Incredicat) has speed, but I think there's some other speed in there," offers Vella. "Of course, I'd have to watch and see how the track is that day. Something we've learned about the Polytrack is that it can play a little different from day to day sometimes, just like any track, so we'll have to see how things are going that day. The Marine is a very important step for us, but our goal is to go a mile and a quarter, if it's possible, so we certainly don't want to be teaching him any bad habits."

While the Marine may prove to be a class test for Strait of Dover, Vella is buoyed by his Plate hopeful’s attitude.

"Horses have to be physically talented to run in these big races, but he has no lack of confidence," says Vella. "He walks out onto the track like it's his. He doesn't worry about the small stuff and I find that a great attribute to a horse, that they don't stress over things too much. We could all learn something from that."


Post / Horse / Jockey / Trainer
1 / Classic Bryce / Eurico Rosa Da Silva / Darwin Banach
2 / All Squared Away / Julio Garcia / Wesley Ward
3 / Bridge Loan / Emma-Jayne Wilson / Todd Pletcher
4 / Holiday Promise / Patrick Husbands / Todd Pletcher
5 / Strait of Dover / Justin Stein / Dan Vella
6 / Incredicat / Luis Contreras / Ian Black