For the sake of keeping his owners happy, trainer Mark Casse would like to find a way to keep two certain fillies in his barn apart.
That has not been easy, as both Grade I winner Spring in the Air and her stablemate/rival Spring Venture relish synthetic surfaces and have each progressed on similar time lines.
While putting the two in the same race heightens the odds of disappointment for his connections, Casse can take heart in the fact his fillies have been an unbeatable duo when they have taken on challengers together.
With the weather in the Bluegrass finally acting like the season Mother Nature intends, Casse laughed that Saturday's Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes — the first Grade I race of Keeneland's 16-day Spring Meet — really is the perfect spot for the two daughters of Spring At Last.
Spring Venture and Spring in the Air were among the 14 3-year-old fillies plus two also-eligibles entered for the $500,000 Ashland. They will break from posts No. 4 and 11, respectively, in the 11⁄16-mile race on Polytrack.
Owned by John Oxley, Spring in the Air will attempt to become the fifth filly to sweep the Grade I Darley Alcibiades and the Ashland at Keeneland, having won the former by a length over fellow Ashland entrant Broken Spell last October.
To accomplish that, however, Spring in the Air will have to find a way to better Gary Barber and Stoneway Farm's Spring Venture, who has prevailed in each of their previous two meetings, including a three-quarter-length victory over her stablemate in the filly division of the OBS Championship Stakes on March 11.
The two also ran 1-2 in the Grade II Natalma Stakes at Woodbine last September with Spring Venture being 13/4 lengths better that day.
"This is a good race for both of them," Casse said. "They're owned by two different people but I have to do what is best for the horse and ... unfortunately that means they have to run against each other.
"I couldn't be happier with the way they're coming up to the race. The results (in OBS) were just the way I thought. I thought Spring Venture had a little edge since she had raced one time in the winter and we were a little behind with Spring in the Air."
Part of the reason Casse shipped Spring in the Air and not Spring Venture to Keene-land last fall was he didn't feel the chestnut filly was mentally ready to handle the strain of travel.
Sure enough, Casse attributed part of Spring Venture's 13th-place run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf to her greenness as she broke awkwardly and ducked in when jockey Patrick Husbands tried to go to the whip.
"She still only got beat 4-5 lengths that day," Casse said. "I think she's more mature now and she's had time to settle into Keeneland so I'm not worried about her maturity factor anymore."
While Spring Venture began 2013 with a fifth-place finish in the Grade II Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream in January, Spring in the Air was given a more extended break after running fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, a race Casse said she bled "3 out of (a scale) of 5."
A Breeders' Cup rule implemented last year barred the race-day use of the anti-bleeder medication Lasix in all of its juvenile races.
"She choked and coughed for about 24 hours so that was pretty hard on her," said Casse, who added he wasn't sure if either would go on to the Kentucky Oaks after Saturday. "Right now, I just want them both to run good."
Verrazano favored for Wood Memorial
The Todd Pletcher-trained Verrazano was installed as the 4-5 morning-line favorite over fellow unbeaten Vyjack and eight others entered for Saturday's Grade I, $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Verrazano scored his third win in as many starts when he notched a 3-length victory in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. Vyjack is 4-for-4, all at Aqueduct, including his win in the Grade III Gotham Stakes.
Flashback one to beat in Santa Anita Derby
Despite drawing the rail in the nine-horse race, Grade II winner Flashback was made the 9-5 morning-line pick for Saturday's Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby.
Hear the Ghost, who beat Flashback in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes, drew post No. 2 and was tabbed as the 5-2 second choice.
Keeneland Spring Meet
When: Friday through April 26, with 16 days of racing (No racing on Mondays and Tuesdays)
Post time: 1:05 p.m. (Gates open at 11 a.m.)
Traffic concerns: Planning, patience required with road work ongoing. A1
Central Bank Ashland
When: 5:13 p.m. Saturday
Distance: 11⁄16 milesGrade: I
Purse: $500,000TV: TVG
For: 3-year-old fillies
PP Horse Jockey
1 Tuttipaesi Garcia
2 Nipissing Bahen
3 Private Ensign Lanerie
4 Spring Venture Mena
5 Broken Spell Rocco
7 Kitten's Point Prado
9 Allanah Arroyo Jr.
10 Every Way Graham
11 Spring in the Air Husbands
12 Wave Theory Leparoux
13 Emollient Smith
14 Magical Moon Napravnik
Cash Is Queen-x Albarado
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Twitter: @horseracingHL. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.