06/23/2005 11:00PM

Off 10 weeks, with scant works, Wild Desert looks the wild card


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - In a full of intrigue, there is no contestant more mysterious than Wild Desert, who will be making his local debut in Sunday's $1 million headliner at Woodbine.

Wild Desert represents a puzzle for bettors. It has been 10 weeks since Wild Desert last saw action, when he finished 15 3/4 lengths back in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, where Afleet Alex was an eight-length winner.

And, until he was clocked going three furlongs in 38 seconds on the main track here Friday, Wild Desert had just one published workout during his absence, a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.80 at Monmouth on May 29.

All of that would not matter much if Wild Desert was a no-hoper, but the races in which he has competed and the company he has kept would make him the horse to beat in many Queen's Plates.

Wild Desert had come into the Arkansas Derby off a solid second-place finish in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway, which had followed a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in his 2005 bow at Gulfstream.

Following the Arkansas Derby, Wild Desert was moved from trainer Ken McPeek to Richard Dutrow Jr., who on June 1 began serving a suspension for medication violations in New York.

Wild Desert has been stabled at Monmouth Park with assistant trainer Larry Walters, and he will be saddled by pinch-hitting trainer Bobby Frankel here Sunday.

Rudy Rodriguez, a Dutrow assistant, accompanied Wild Desert to Woodbine and has been his exercise rider at Monmouth.

"He missed the first couple of weeks after we got him," said Rodriguez. "He had a couple of problems. But the last eight weeks every step he's taken has been forward. He's been making progress. That's why we brought him here - we think he can get the job done. He won't be short."

Rodriguez said Wild Desert had in fact been on a regular work schedule at Monmouth.

"He's been working every five or six days," said Rodriguez. "He's usually working very early."

Gate Artis, Monmouth's head clocker, acknowledges that it is possible that Wild Desert, being relatively unknown locally, could have worked without being recorded.

Monmouth, unlike Woodbine and some other major racing jurisdictions, does not require horses to be identified before training.

"Usually they call them in, about 90 percent of the time," said Artis. "But sometimes, they don't."

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is happy with the way Wild Desert has adjusted to Woodbine since here arriving late Wednesday

"He galloped beautifully yesterday. He was very comfortable," Rodriguez said Friday morning.

"I just jogged him and let him breeze three-eighths this morning. I didn't want anything special. He's ready. He doesn't need anything else.

Pat Valenzuela, who rode Wild Desert in the Arkansas Derby, will be in from Hollywood Park to renew acquaintances on Sunday.

King of Jazz arrives

The final piece of the Queen's Plate puzzle is ready to be put in place, as King of Jazz checked in at about 6 a.m. Friday following an overnight van ride from Churchill Downs.

Groom Carlos Tinajero accompanied King of Jazz, who will be seeking his third straight win. He is owned by Buckram Oak Farm and trained by Carl Nafzger.

King of Jazz will be making his Woodbine debut, but he has already faced one of his fellow Queen's Plate entrants, finishing second to Three in the Bag in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream on Feb. 2

In two subsequent starts, both over 1 1/8 miles, King of Jazz won a maiden race at Keeneland and came back to win a first-level allowance at Churchill Downs on May 25.

Assistant trainer Ian Wilkes will be here to saddle King of Jazz on Sunday. Robert Landry, who rode the colt for the first time when he won the June 5 Plate Trial via disqualification, won the Queen's Plate for the first time last year with Niigon.

Shuman sends Worldwind Romance

The Highlander Handicap, which is the main supporting feature on Sunday's program, also attracted an invader as Worldwind Romance arrived Thursday evening.

Worldwind Romance is coming off a 5 1/4-length score in the Turf Monster Handicap, a five-furlong race at Philadelphia Park on May 30. A 7-year-old gelding, he is owned by Michael Gill and will be the first starter in Canada for trainer Mark Shuman.

Stable foreman Adrian Garcia accompanied Worldwind Romance on the 10-hour van ride from his training base in Maryland. Pat Valenzuela picks up the mount for the Highlander.