05/19/2004 12:00AM

After tough winter, Smoocher lands in Marine


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Smoocher didn't perform up to expectations at Gulfstream Park this winter, failing to crack the top three in three outings.

But trainer David Bell said he has reason to believe that Smoocher's better form will resurface in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Marine Stakes, the open 1 1/16-mile feature for 3-year-olds.

Bell, who has been pointing Smoocher for the Marine since returning to Woodbine, can offer no definitive explanation for the colt's Gulfstream performance.

"He trained real well over the track, and he kind of acted real well," said Bell, who trains Smoocher for Franks Farm.

"But I still don't think he handled the racetrack real well. He didn't really fire in the afternoon. The competition was pretty tough, too."

That competition included the likes of subsequent Kentucky Derby contestants Friends Lake and Birdstone, plus other stakes-winning types such as Second of June and Silver Wagon.

Smoocher's last Gulfstream start came in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where he finished eighth but was beaten just 7 3/4 lengths under Jose Santos, who was aboard for all his Florida outings.

"Santos said after his last race that he'd love to ride him on another racetrack," Bell said.

Bred in Florida by the late John Franks, Smoocher will be one of the leading candidates for the Marine, which is run over the distance at which he became a stakes winner here in last year's Grade 2 Grey.

And, Bell found a rather unorthodox prep for Smoocher here May 2, entering him in a nonwinners-of-three/optional $50,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds and up at 6 1/2 furlongs.

"I thought it might be a good spot, to sprint him and get him back into gear again," Bell said. "He didn't leave the gate very well at all, but he finished very strongly, once he finally got to running a little bit."

Smoocher rallied from last place in the field of nine to finish fourth there, beaten seven lengths in sloppy going under regular local rider Jim McAleney.

Next spot a question for My Vintage Port

Trainer Ken Parsley isn't sure whether to zig or zag with My Vintage Port, who was Canada's champion 2-year-old filly last year and is being considered for the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks on June 13.

Parsley nominated My Vintage Port in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 Selene, an open 1 1/16-mile stakes race for 3-year-old fillies and a major prep for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks, restricted to Canadian-breds.

My Vintage Port also is nominated to the following Saturday's $125,000 Lady Angela, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies.

"She could be 5-2 in the Lady Angela and 15-1 in the Selene," said Parsley, who sent out My Vintage Port to breeze four furlongs in 48.60 seconds on the training track Wednesday, with her regular rider Jono Jones in the irons. "I'd love to run her in the Selene, and maybe get some black type in a graded stake. We'll probably enter her, and see who's in there.

"We could scratch her and go in the Lady Angela. "She'd only be going seven-eighths, but she could gallop out strongly and come back in two weeks for the Oaks."

My Vintage Port, co-owned by Parsley and Rick Pettifer, won three stakes races and $351,051 at 2, with all of her successes coming in Canadian-bred or Ontario-sired company.

Lacking an appropriate local option, Parsley sent My Vintage Port to Keeneland for her 3-year-old debut, where she tried turf for the first time in the one-mile Appalachian and was a distant last in the field of nine.

Back at her home base, My Vintage Port finished third, beaten 9 3/4 lengths, in the seven-furlong Fury here May 9.

"I said if she hit the board there I'd be happy," Parsley said. "She was giving away a lot of weight, and she kind of fell out of it on the turn a little bit.

"She took herself back. We've been working on that."

Turf works begin

The turf training track opened on schedule here Wednesday morning, with the going rated good and the dogs well out.

A total of 48 horses made the work tab, including the stakes-placed Mr. J.T.L. and five others trained by Roger Attfield

Runner-up in the Grade 3 Transylvania over one mile on turf at Keeneland this spring, Mr. J.T.L. worked five furlongs in company with stablemate Elusive Knight, both clocked in 1:02.20.

Mr. J.T.L., being Canadian-bred, was a Queen's Plate hopeful but disappointed for the third time in as many career starts on dirt when he finished a distant fifth in the Queenston over seven furlongs in sloppy going here May 8.

"We'll run him back on turf," Attfield said. "He doesn't look like a dirt horse right now.

"He probably won't go to the Plate. There's no point going and spoiling a horse, just because it's the Queen's Plate. I've seen too many people do that over the years."

Irish import partial to turf

An interesting newcomer who trained on the turf here Wednesday is Great Pyramid, who drilled five furlongs in 1:03.40.

Great Pyramid, an Irish-bred 4-year-old owned by Bill Murphy, is a full brother to the superstar Rock of Gibraltar and is here with Arthur Silvera, who welcomed the colt into his string at Ocala this January.

"He was at a training center, and they couldn't get him to work on dirt at all," Silvera said.

"They sent him over to me at Classic Mile, where there's a turf course. He really worked good on turf. It was a night-and-day difference."

Great Pyramid began his career in Ireland in promising fashion, finishing second in his opener and then graduating next time out, but he has been out of the money in eight subsequent outings and has not seen action since last July 4.

Silvera does point out that Great Pyramid has kept some pretty tough company, competing in three Grade 1 races while running in France, England, and Ireland.