09/04/2003 11:00PM

Alpha Saphire vs. 'Howdy' in marathon


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Recent stakes winners Alpha Saphire and Heyahohowdy meet in Sunday's $109,000 Flaming Page Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

The other stakes race scheduled for Sunday at Woodbine, the Wilderness Song for 3-year-old fillies, was scrapped when it attracted just three entries.

Alpha Saphire has improved with each subsequent start at the meet. She was beaten a nose two starts back, in the allowance prep for the Wonder Where Stakes, and then notched her first stakes win Aug. 4 in the Wonder Where, which was the final leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara.

Alpha Saphire made a bold wide bid to seize command on the far turn in the 1 1/4-mile Wonder Where, before coasting home on top by nearly three lengths. Trainer Malcolm Pierce said that during the race he was concerned that she was being moved too soon.

"[Jockey Emile Ramsammy] felt he had a lot of horse at the middle of the turn," Pierce said. "He decided to go on with it, and she was able to sustain her run. If she had hung at the eighth pole, or had gotten nailed at the wire, then you would have questioned [the ride]."

Pierce is optimistic that 1 1/2 miles is within Alpha Saphire's range.

"She handled the mile and a quarter perfectly," Pierce said, "but that extra quarter of a mile can be a long way. I think it will be fine for her, but you never know until you try. She came out of the Wonder Where in good shape. She likes the little cooler weather that we're having."

Ramsammy has opted to ride Heyahohowdy, who was a stalking second to Inish Glora in the Aug. 4 Victoriana Stakes. She led most of the way two weeks ago, in the nine-furlong Belle Geste Stakes, and prevailed by a neck after being overtaken by Inish Glora at the eighth pole.

Trainer Abraham Katryan said a slow pace may enable Heyahohowdy to stay the Flaming Page distance. "I guess it all depends on how fast they go early," Katryan said. "If she gets to loaf along and go the half in 50 [seconds], I think that would be good."

Carib Lady is the lone runner in the field to have won at 1 1/2 miles. She won the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap at Pimlico in May, and won an allowance race at 1 1/2 miles at Gulfstream in March. Mark Casse trains.