DUNDAS, ON — Mark Steacy will start three fillies on Friday night’s $480,000 Grassroots Championship program, one he always expected to vie for the Grassroots title, and two that have been pleasant late season surprises.

With $185,981 earned in her two-year-old campaign, Steacy had hoped Dornello would rank among the top Gold fillies this season, but a series of health struggles limited the Angus Hall daughter to the Grassroots, where she went undefeated in five starts, including a 1:59.3 win in last week’s Semifinal.

“When she came to me I had hopes she would be a real top Gold player this year. She has such a good gait, and speed too,” notes Steacy, who trains the trotting lass for Joseph Myers of Holland, PA and Linda Worrell of Warminster, PA. “But she has had some inside troubles, with her liver, and that has stopped her from being a top filly.”

After struggling all summer to keep the filly healthy at his satellite operation in Campbellville, Steacy shipped Dornello home to his Lansdowne farm in late September and says the change seems to have done the filly more good than any of the complex therapies he tried through the middle of the stakes season.

“The last time I drew blood on her, it was the best it’s been all summer,” says the horseman. “I don’t know if it’s the relaxed atmosphere here or what, but she seems to be so much brighter and healthier. She has to truck a little more, but she seems okay with that.”

Trotting specialist Trevor Ritchie will steer Dornello from Post 3 in the three-year-old trotting filly Championship, and Steacy is pleased that the Acton resident has stuck with the filly through the challenges of her sophomore season.

“He has pretty much been with her the whole time, even last year. They’ve been a good fit,” says Steacy. “You always like to have a driver who’s familiar with your horse, especially on a half-mile track.”

Making the trip alongside Dornello on Friday will be two-year-old trotting filly Stonebridge Marita, who captured her last regular season Grassroots event to squeak into the Semifinal and then delivered the fastest mile of the four freshman trotting events last Friday, halting the teletimer at 2:00.4.

“She’s really improved a lot in the last three or four weeks,” explains Steacy. “She always had a very nice gait training down, and she was very smart, but she was never strong, even at the end of her training miles, so we took our time with her.”

That investment of time seems to have paid off, as the Angus Hall miss has been no worse than second in her last three starts. Breeder Angie Stiller of Arva and Robert Kauffman of New Albany, OH share ownership on Stonebridge Marita, and hall of Fame horseman Bill O’Donnell will steer the filly from the advantageous rail position in Friday’s sixth race.

“Bill’s pretty crafty. As long as she stays healthy until Friday, I think the odds are in our favour with the rail and Bill O’Donnell,” says Steacy.

Steacy’s third entry comes in the two-year-old pacing filly division, where Star Of Show and Keith Oliver will be looking to improve on the fourth-place result they delivered in the Semifinal.

“She’s another filly, a very growthy filly, who was very, very lazy training down,” recalls Steacy. “She went along and did things, only because I made her do things.”

Last Friday’s Semifinal was Oliver’s first opportunity to sit behind the Astreos daughter, who is owned by breeders Peter Heffering and David Heffering of Port Perry, and Steacy expects the veteran reinsman will be ready with a more aggressive steer this week from Post 5.

“Keith didn’t really know her, he was just feeling her out,” explains Steacy. “He’ll be familiar with her this time. She’s not a big leaver, so the five-hole shouldn’t bother her too much.”

Oliver agrees with Steacy’s assessment, and hopes he can have the filly out in the hunt this week, ready to take aim on Semifinal winners Tomorrowpan and Noshameinmygame, who will start from Posts 1 and 7.

“She was strong at the finish. We were lucky to make the final, but I had a lot of horse finishing,” says Oliver. “We drew the five-hole, that will give me a chance to get on the outside in the flow.”

Among Oliver’s other mounts on Friday night is three-year-old trotting filly Semifinal winner Good Common Cents, who will try and bring an end to Dornello’s Grassroots win streak from Post 1 in the ninth race. Oliver employed a come from behind strategy to land Good Common Cents her 2:00.2 win last week, and the reinsman says he would be happy to employ a similar strategy behind the other Semifinal winner on Friday.

“I see Dornello drew the three-hole, she looks to be the top filly in there, so I’ll certainly be watching what she does,” says Oliver, who steers the filly for trainer Larry Walker of Morriston and breeder Charles Armstrong of Brampton. “I’d like to chase her bumper right to the top of the stretch, but everybody will be looking for that trip.”

The top Grassroots trotters and pacers will give chase in Races 2 through 7, 9 and 10 on Flamboro Downs’ Friday evening program, which gets under way at 6 pm.

For complete entries please go to: http://www.standardbredcanada.ca/entries/data/eflmdfr.html.