09/13/2004 11:00PM

Atto boy, Royal Regalia

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
My Vintage Port wins the Wonder Where, helping make her a top contender for Saturday's La Lorgnette.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Justin Nixon signed on with Stronach Stable two years ago, prepared to go wherever asked to contribute to the operation.

Nixon, 35, could hardly have expected to find himself in the limelight in a race such as the Atto Mile, but that is exactly where he will be for Sunday's edition of the Grade 1, $1 million turf feature - with Royal Regalia.

"Certainly, two years ago, I wouldn't have thought I'd have a horse like this," said Nixon, who grew up in the world of Standardbred racehorses at Ontario's Windsor Raceway "It's a privilege to be able to train such a nice horse. It's such a thrill."

Nixon moved to Thoroughbreds and spent six seasons as a public trainer based at Fort Erie and Philadelphia Park before Team Stronach came calling.

After starting out on the farm at Adena Springs South in Florida, where he spent five months, Nixon moved to Laurel in March 2003 and had Royal Regalia join his Stronach string that August.

Royal Regalia had won twice earlier in 2003 while trained by Danny Vella, and won two more races in three starts for Nixon before being sent away for the winter.

This year, Royal Regalia was based at Fort Erie, where Nixon trained a Stronach division.

"I'm pretty mobile," said Nixon. "Laurel, then Fort Erie for four months - I don't mind. A change of scenery keeps things interesting."

Royal Regalia kept things interesting, too, as he set a track record of 1:31.84 at one mile on turf at Woodbine in his 2004 debut July 1.

In his only subsequent outing, Saratoga's Grade 2 Fourstardave on Aug. 28, Royal Regalia set most of the pace before finishing third.

Royal Regalia earned his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 104 that day and, after pondering other options, Team Stronach gave him the green light for the Atto Mile.

"It's a Grade 1. Everybody's going to be tough," said Nixon. "But I think we can be as tough as anybody off his last two races."

High Blitz at Adena North

With the Fort Erie meeting ended on Sept. 6, Royal Regalia and 17 other Nixon-trained horses now are based at Adena Springs North, not far from Woodbine.

Other noteworthy performers in the Nixon fold include High Blitz, an impressive winner under third-level allowance conditions here on Sunday.

Sunday Sensation, who finished a close second in each of her last two starts, in second-level allowance races on the turf here, is another promising Nixon trainee. "She has quite a bit of talent," said Nixon. "I think she has stakes potential. If she continues to improve, she'll be awful tough as a 5-year-old."

Alpha Saphire to skip Canadian

Vella had hoped to run the Stronach-owned Alpha Saphire in Sunday's $250,000 Canadian Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares that is one of two Grade 2 turf stakes on the Atto Mile program.

But Alpha Saphire is unlikely to run after failing to get in a prep race.

"I've been in two races with her, and both times they took them off the grass," said Vella. "It's very frustrating.

"Truthfully, I don't know her as well as I'd like. I just don't know where I am with her."

Alpha Saphire, who won the Wonder Where when trained here last year by Malcolm Pierce, has started only once for Vella, finishing sixth in a third-level allowance over 1 1/8 miles of turf at Gulfstream back on Feb. 11.

Stag Nation set for Summer Stakes

Vella plans to be represented in Sunday's other supporting feature, the one-mile Summer Stakes for 2-year-olds, with Stag Nation. Campaigning for a syndicate known as Class Action Stable, Stag Nation will be looking for his second straight win on Sunday. He graduated over seven furlongs of turf here Aug. 22.

Vella is one of seven members of the Class Action group.

Stag Nation ran ninth when debuting over five furlongs here June 27, then ran second at six furlongs before his victory, which came in his turf debut.

"This horse has been improving steadily," said Vella. "His first race, he didn't know what he was doing out there. He needed a race or two to wake him up."

My Vintage Port tunes up

My Vintage Port, one of the leading contenders for Saturday's $125,000 La Lorgnette, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 on a fast main track Tuesday under regular rider Jono Jones.

"She's a very good work horse," said Ken Parsley, who trains My Vintage Port and is a co-owner along with Rick Pettifer. "She just does it on her own."

My Vintage Port will be seeking her third straight stakes win in the La Lorgnette, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies.

After capturing the Wonder Where, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies here Aug. 1, My Vintage Port won the Eternal Search, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies on Sept. 1.