06/20/2002 11:00PM

All signs point to Shaws Creek

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Shaws Creek, riding the wave of a two-race win streak, will be looking to win Canada's most prestigious race as the probable favorite in Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate.

The 1 1/4-mile Plate heads a blockbuster 11-race card at Woodbine, which also includes the Grade 2 Nearctic Handicap, and the Charlie Barley and Sweet Briar Too stakes.

The 143rd running of the Plate is the first leg of the 2002 Canadian Triple Crown. It will be followed by the Prince of Wales Stakes on July 21 at Fort Erie, and the Breeders' Stakes here Aug. 10. A $500,000 bonus will be awarded to the owner of any horse who sweeps the series.

It seems logical to pare down the Plate contenders to the first three finishers in the Plate Trial Stakes - Shaws Creek, Classic Mike, and Anglian Prince.

Forever Grand and Ford Every Stream may be the two most talented 3-year-olds in the 14-horse field, but the distance is simply too far for the brilliantly fast Forever Grand. Ford Every Stream won his first two starts impressively, but he hasn't run since finishing third in the Marine Stakes five weeks ago, and with just three starts, is short on seasoning.

The other nine Canadian-breds seem overmatched, although Adjalah and Barbeau Ruckus are capable of sneaking into the superfecta.

Shaws Creek comes off victories in the seven-furlong Queenston Stakes and the nine-furlong Trial. A son of Tejano Run, Shaws Creek had high speed at 2, but has learned to rate kindly this year, ever since trainer John Ross turned the reigns over to jockey Jake Barton.

"He's done everything we've asked him to do this year," Barton noted. "He's been training well, and I don't think 1 1/4 miles will make any difference to him. He was really strong at the end of the Trial."

Shaws Creek breezed a half-mile in 50.60 seconds over the main track on Wednesday. "It's exactly what we wanted," said Ross. "It's the same thing that we did with him going into the Trial. I think he's peaking at the right time."

Classic Mike was a fast-closing second in the June 1 Trial after encountering traffic problems early in the stretch under Jono Jones. Trainer Reade Baker said Classic Mike is the type of horse who responds best when covered up behind rivals before making his move.

"He seems to settle better when he gets covered up," Baker said. "He drew an inside post in the Trial, and got covered. When [Jones] wanted to move him, he had to hesitate slightly, and then he had to make a sharp right-hand turn at the sixteenth pole to get him in the clear. Considering all that, I thought his kick at the end was faster than anybody else's."

Anglian Prince, another son of 1995 Kentucky Derby runner-up Tejano Run, has only missed one stakes prep leading up to the Plate. He graduated against mere $25,000 maidens in October, but has improved dramatically this year, earning a Beyer Figure of 101 when he won the 1 1/16-mile Marine.

In the Trial, Anglian Prince stalked the pace along the rail under Jim McAleney, but flattened out a little in the final furlong after hitting the front. McAleney felt his chances were compromised by running inside.

"The rail was extremely dead," McAleney said. "He showed more speed than I wanted him to, and he didn't settle that well. To only be beaten a length, I thought it was a huge race."

In an attempt to get Anglian Prince to relax better in the Plate, trainer Mort Hardy will open up his blinkers, which is what he did when Anglian Prince worked a mile in 1:41.20 last weekend.

"I thought he worked very well." Hardy said. "The time wasn't sensational, but he galloped out an extra eighth in 14 [seconds], which is very good after going a mile."

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