05/12/2004 11:00PM

Apprentice gets a shot aboard Rare Friends

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Rare Friends, the Canadian champion 2-year-old of 2001, will make his second start of the year at Fort Erie on Saturday.

Just 13 days ago, Rare Friends scored in his opener at his Woodbine base. The $78,500 allowance race was his 10th win from 19 starts, and it rang up his earnings to $704,014.

Pat Husbands was aboard for the triumph. Apprentice Corey Fraser takes over the reins at the Fort.

"Corey deserves a shot on him," said Bob Tiller, trainer and part-owner of Rare Friends. "He got him ready this spring. And he worked a lot of horses for me."

The five-pound allowance makes the towering Rare Friends the six-furlong race's lightweight at 117 pounds. His main adversary, Ashagio, who was Fort Erie's 2003 horse of the meet, is to carry 122. The other seven in the allowance race are pegged at 118.

Rare Friends, who captured the $64,000 Parnitha here on July 1, made but four starts last year for Tiller, who owns Rare Friends with Frank DiGiulio.

"We were very frustrated by that," said Tiller, Canada's top trainer two of the last three years. "It was a combination of things, some foot problems, but every time we had him ready to run we couldn't find a race for him. He is in good order right now."

Quarter-mile royalty

Pembroke Hall is the king who reigns over the popular quarter-mile races run at the Fort.

The 7-year-old gelding won Tuesday when the first two-furlong race of 2004 took place. Pembroke Hall leapt out to a lead of four lengths and coasted to a 1 3/4-length triumph.

Pembroke Hall was a perfect 6 for 6, all at two furlongs, last year. And when you add in his score in his final start of 2002, Pembroke Hall is now on a win streak of eight.

The queen of the quarter-milers, Storming on Merit, didn't get to strut her stuff as the dash for fillies and mares didn't fill. Storming on Merit darted to 10 wins in 12 tries last year.

Both Pembroke Hall and Storming on Merit reside in the barn of Don MacRae, who claimed each for $25,000 last year for client Darryl Jackson. MacRae has had two wins with Pembroke Hall and is 5 for 5 with Storming on Merit, a 5-year-old mare.

Since the two-furlong dashes are carded at three-week intervals, MacRae is looking toward Charles Town to get Storming on Merit into action.

"There are allowance races there at four and a half furlongs," said MacRae, 27, who sits alone atop the standings with five wins in eight starts.

Kruger's sophomore season

Trainer Wendy Kruger, who used to be a regular at Hastings, is making her presence felt in her second year here.

Last year, Kruger had nine wins and nine second-place finishes. She has had two wins in this two-week-old meet.

"I did so-so last year," said Kruger. "We brought horses from Vancouver, and bringing them from a bullring to a mile track does take a little adjustment."

Kruger finds the Fort Erie track surface "much kinder" than the one in Vancouver. And, she likes the better purses here.

However, she feels the claiming prices here are inflated and that you get more value for your money in Vancouver.

Kruger has Sand Rush in a $20,000 claimer Saturday. Sand Rush finished third in an optional claimer for $25,000 on opening day behind stakes winner Frankiefourfingers.