06/23/2006 12:00AM

Baffert looking to clean the Plate

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Malakoff, winner of the Marine on May 20, missed some training time because of a virus.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Bob Baffert's three Woodbine starters in the past 10 years all failed to hit the board, but he figures to improve on that record Sunday when he sends out favored Wanna Runner in the 147th running of the , North America's oldest continuously run stakes.

The $1 million Plate, a 1 1/4-mile event for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, heads a stellar 11-race card, which includes three other stakes: the $200,000 Highlander, the $100,000 Charlie Barley and the $100,000 Singspiel.

The Plate is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. It will be followed by the July 16 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, and the Breeders' Stakes on the grass here Aug. 6.

Plate Day annually attracts one of the larger crowds of the meeting, up to 20,000. As of Friday, the union representing Woodbine's mutuel clerks was on strike, and the track was planning to man as many mutuel windows as possible with management and supervisory staff.

Wanna Runner has won the Lone Star Derby and the WinStar Derby in his last two starts. His top challengers in Sunday's 13-horse field are the lightly raced Sterwins, the other American-based shipper in the Plate, who has the best Beyer in the lineup; Malakoff, the Marine Stakes winner; the improving Shillelagh Slew; and the Plate Trial Stakes winner, Pipers Thunder.

Wanna Runner, owned by Mike Pegram, began to realize his potential when he finished third behind Brother Derek and Stevie Wonderboy in the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes Jan. 14 at Santa Anita.

Two weeks later, Wanna Runner was a flat fifth in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows, which was his only start without blinkers and jockey Victor Espinoza.

"I ran him back too soon then, and I took him back [off the pace]," Baffert recalled.

Wanna Runner rebounded with a decisive victory in the April 1 WinStar Derby, a nine-furlong route worth $600,000 at Sunland Park. He bypassed the Kentucky Derby in favor of the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby, which he won easily going 1 1/16 miles, with a Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

"We've managed him gingerly," Baffert said. "El Corredor, his sire, was a late-bloomer, and this horse has gotten better with age. His sire was a good miler, but he can run farther than his sire."

Sterwins, trained by Todd Pletcher, won his maiden in a romp his second time out two weeks ago at Monmouth, receiving a Beyer Figure of 101.

Malakoff rallied to capture the fastest local prep for the Plate, the Grade 3 Marine Stakes, earning a 92 Beyer. According to trainer Brian Lynch, Malakoff missed some training because of a virus after the May 20 Marine, but has worked encouragingly this month.

"He's been working very well," said Lynch. "I'm really happy with the way he's trained up to the race."

Shillelagh Slew has run just once this year, which was an impressive allowance score going seven furlongs April 29. Trainer Mike DePaulo said he wasn't surprised to see Shillelagh Slew prevail in his comeback after spending the winter in Florida.

"We expected him to run well," DePaulo said. "The big plan was to run him back in the Marine and give him five weeks to the Plate, but unfortunately he got sick. He missed four days of training, and had surgery for an entrapped epiglottis."

Since then, said DePaulo, "He's been training great."

All eight runners in the nine-furlong Plate Trial Stakes are in the field, including the lightly raced winner, Pipers Thunder.

Jockey Ray Sabourin said Pipers Thunder had a strong six-furlong work last Sunday, going in 1:13 at owner Chiefswood Stable's farm.

Ascot Bill, the surprising runner-up in the Trial, is peaking in time for the Plate, according to trainer Steve Attard.

"He came out of it better than any race so far," Attard said.

Edenwold, last year's champion 2-year-old in Canada, wound up third in the Trial after pressing the pace along a dead rail.

Cifercat, who was claimed for $32,000 in April, made a wide bid before hanging in deep stretch to finish fourth in the Trial.

The field

Queen's Plate
Purse: $1 million; 1 1/4 miles

1EdenwoldE. Ramsammy12-1
2Atlas ShrugsC. Fraser20-1
3Shillelagh SlewD. Luciani8-1
4Thinking Out Loud J. McAleney30-1
5SterwinsJ. Velazquez6-1
6Ascot BillJ. Stein20-1
7Pyramid ParkS. Callaghan 30-1
8MalakoffT. Kabel3-1
9Wanna Runner V. Espinoza9-5
10Pipers Thunder R. Sabourin10-1
11Hot DeputyC. Montpellier 50-1
12CifercatR. Dos Ramos 50-1
13BridgecutE. Wilson 50-1

* All starters carry 126 pounds
* Odds by track
* Blinkers off: Thinking Out Loud
* Television: TSN 5:30-6:30 p.m.