07/07/2004 11:00PM

Alke's success flatters I'm the Tiger

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The future seemed to be burning bright for I'm the Tiger when he returned from Florida this spring.

I'm the Tiger, a Kentucky homebred who races for Stronach Stable, had left Gulfstream on a triumphant note, having captured a 6 1/2-furlong dash under third-level allowance terms on Feb. 14.

But respect for I'm the Tiger, a 4-year-old gelding, stemmed not so much from that success but from a half-length defeat in his previous start.

The winner of that six-furlong dash, also under optional claiming/third-level allowance conditions, was Alke, who came back to take Gulfstream's Grade 3 Deputy Minister and finish second in the Grade 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen against some of the world's best sprinters.

I'm the Tiger earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 109 for his second-place finish to Alke on Jan. 8.

Fast-forward to Thursday morning, and trainer Danny Vella will be looking for I'm the Tiger to display that kind of prowess in Sunday's $125,000 Bold Venture Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

I'm the Tiger has started twice at the meeting, finishing second to Chris's Bad Boy in the April 17 Jacques Cartier at six furlongs and last of eight trying turf for the first time in an open allowance race here June 6.

"That turf race is a complete throwout," said Vella. "He didn't handle it at all; he was climbing. He could like the turf - he's by Siphon - but he didn't."

Vella promises that turf will be strictly past tense for I'm the Tiger, and is hopeful that his horse can turn the tables on Chris's Bad Boy in the Bold Venture.

"I think we can improve," said Vella, who sent out I'm the Tiger for a three-furlong blowout in 38.20 seconds on the "good" training track here Thursday. "He seems better now, a little sharper."

Chris's Bad Boy also has raced once since the Cartier, finishing second to Mobil in the seven-furlong Vigil here May 1.

Vella could take heart from the Bold Venture weights, as Chris's Bad Boy will be the 123-pound highweight, spotting I'm the Tiger seven pounds after conceding just two pounds in the Cartier.

Belle Mahone field uncertain

Winning Chance, second to nemesis One for Rose here in the June 20 Ontario Matron Handicap, will be nominated to the July 18 Belle Mahone but is not a definite participant.

"She's in training on the farm," said Vella, who follows the Team Stronach practice of rotating his stock between the racetrack and nearby Adena Springs North.

"We're just freshening her a little bit," he said. "She tends to get light on us once in a while; we'll just wait until she gets right."

The $100,000 Belle Mahone, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares, is not part of the guaranteed stakes schedule, and Woodbine has the option of canceling the race if it attracts fewer than six betting interests.

That fact creates an uncertain situation for the interests of several locally based fillies and mares who are nominated to the July 17 Dance Smartly, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, but would be better-suited to the Belle Mahone on dirt.

One for Rose, Handpainted, and Raylene all are due to race. They could be entered Thursday in the Dance Smartly and again the following day in the Belle Mahone.

If the Belle Mahone fills, the fillies could scratch from the Dance Smartly but would forfeit the $1,500 entry fee. If the Belle Mahone does not fill, then the next open two-turn dirt stakes for the division will be the Grade 3, 1 1/4-mile Maple Leaf here Nov. 13.

Phelan takes over as steward

Linda Phelan, late of Calgary, is the new steward in town, making her debut here Wednesday evening.

Phelan has been in the racing industry for almost 30 years, most recently as head clocker and placing judge at Stampede Park. She also was a longtime chart caller at Stampede and at Northlands, where her husband, Bruce Phelan, is a trainer.

Phelan fills a void left by the departure of longtime steward Nelson Ham, who retired last month.

Taste of Italy comes to Woodbine

Sunday will be the second annual Italian Day here, featuring live entertainment, food and drink, games, and contests.

A two-hour autograph session, beginning at noon, will feature jockey Dino Luciani and former National Hockey League player Lou Franceschetti.

Volleyball tournament for charity

Woodbine's annual volleyball tournament, which benefits the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society, will take place from 1 to 6 p.m. on July 20 at nearby Centennial Park.

The tournament will employ a "mixed fours" format, with the entry cost per team set at $70.

For details, contact LongRun at (416) 675-3993, ext. 3440.

* The Toronto Thoroughbred Racing Club will hold its regular monthly meeting here Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the second-floor International Room. Nonmembers are welcome.