07/11/2003 12:00AM

23 years later, Mareina comes back


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mike Mareina was working as an assistant to trainer Loren Rettele when he first came to Woodbine, with Golden Act for the 1980 Canadian International.

Golden Act finished fourth that day while attempting to repeat his 1979 International win, but the trip left a favorable impression on Mareina.

That memory played an indirect role in his move here this spring as private trainer for Kuehne Racing.

Mareina, 51, was born within hailing distance of Hollywood Park but made his mark as a trainer of Quarter Horses and show horses before signing on with Rettele in 1977. When Rettele left the business in 1982, Mareina went solo with a public stable.

"I had a bunch of cheap horses, and they weren't going to fit in Southern California," he said.

Mareina spent the next dozen or so seasons training at Golden Gate and Bay Meadows, then moved over to Longacres and raced there until that track closed in 1992. He then spent several years working with horses on his farm in Washington before returning to the racetrack in 1997.

"I went to work for Bobby Frankel, to see what it was like to work with good horses," said Mareina, who cites Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill as one of the highlights of his stay there.

Mareina balked when Frankel wanted him to move to New York, however, and wound up back on his own in Southern California.

A stint in Kentucky as assistant to trainer Phil Hauswald followed, and Mareina then went back to running his own show for two years, with owner Gus Goldsmith as his principal client.

Finally, about 18 months ago, Mareina's career path took the turn that would ultimately bring him back to Woodbine.

Owner Ernie Kuehne, who owns horses in partnership with his son Trip Kuehne, contacted Mareina at Fair Grounds, which had become the trainer's annual winter base.

"He asked me if I'd take some of his horses to Lone Star," said Mareina. "By the time I got to Lone Star I had about 30 horses, and we ended up doing good there."

The outfit's success stories included Halo Cat, who won four straight in Texas before being sold to John Franks.

After the Lone Star meeting ended, the stable moved to Kentucky and, after spending the rest of the year on that circuit, Kuehne decided to find a place to consolidate his racing operation.

"We wanted to find a place that would suit us, with a good program and good grass racing," said Mareina. "I'd told him before that Woodbine was one of the best places I'd ever been."

And so it came to pass that Mareina returned here in late May, and now has 14 horses at the track with 15 at nearby farms with more on their way north.

The barn has three wins and seven in-the-money finishes from 15 starters at the meeting.

One of the brightest lights has been Jazzy Jay, a 2-year-old colt who was an impressive winner of his debut. He will be looking to give Mareina his first local stakes win in Sunday's Colin.

Jazzy Jay, a Kentucky-bred, was purchased for $19,000 at the Keeneland January mixed sale.

"He's come around rather quickly," said Mareina. "I couldn't breeze him until April. I waited and waited for his knees to close."

Jazzy Jay worked well at Keeneland but had galloped over the Woodbine oval just once before he raced June 7. He led throughout that five-furlong sprint to score by three-quarters of a length over Kent Ridge, who came back to win his maiden in commanding fashion.

"He was pretty impressive," said Mareina of Jazzy Jay. "He won like a good horse, not just a horse."

That view obviously was shared by American owner Eugene Dixon, who began negotiations to purchase the colt. The sale was finalized in mid-week and Jazzy Jay will be running in the colors of Erdenheim Farm on Sunday, with Mareina the trainer of record.

Third Day out with minor illness

Third Day, who also was purchased privately by an American owner, Earle Mack, this week and had been pointing for the Colin, was not entered after coming down with a slight illness.

A Kentucky-bred by Distorted Humor, Third Day had won the five-furlong Victoria in his debut after first-place finisher Gemini Dream was disqualified.

"Earle and I discussed it, and decided not to push it," said Mark Casse, who will continue to train Third Day. "I've said all along he's a horse who wants to run farther. His long-term goal is the Grey."

The Grade 2, $250,000 Grey Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race, will be run here Oct. 5.

Peef joins field for Prince of Wales

Peef, the seventh-place finisher here in the June 22 Queen's Plate, is headed for next Sunday's $500,000 Prince of Wales at Fort Erie.

Malcolm Pierce, who took over as Peef's trainer last week, said Ray Sabourin has the mount.

Peef's owner, Arosa Farm, won the 1999 Prince of Wales with the filly Gandria.

Wando, nine-length winner of the 1 1/4-mile Plate, will be the prohibitive favorite in the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales, which is the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Others expected to compete in the Prince of Wales include Arco's Gold, Shoal Water, Solihull, Gavro, and the Fort Erie-based Sonofawac.