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Baker did best work south of the border
ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Reade Baker took home the Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding trainer in 2005, and has been a finalist in his category in the two succeeding seasons.
This year, Baker has campaigned two probable Sovereign Award winners in older mare Bear Now and sprinter Fatal Bullet, who also is considered a top contender for Horse of the Year honors.
But, Baker himself could be on the outside looking in when the three nominees for each category are announced on Friday.
Mark Casse, winner of the outstanding trainer award the last two seasons, and Roger Attfield, who has had a successful and high-profile campaign, seem certain to be among the three finalists.
That would leave the third spot up for grabs. Sid Attard, who is headed for his second straight top-two finish after leading in races won at the previous three Woodbine meetings, and Terry Jordan, who operates very successfully at Woodbine and Hastings, are vying with Baker as probable candidates for the slot.
"I think I've had a great year," said Baker. "But, most of my major accomplishments were out of town. My Woodbine meeting was good, but I have a lot of American-breds, and that restricts you here."
Baker headed into this final week of the Woodbine meeting ranked third in races won with 47 and fourth in money won with almost $2.7 million.
Of his eight stakes wins this season, four came at Woodbine. Fatal Bullet and Bear Now, owned by Danny Dion's Bear Stable, both won Grade 3 races at Turfway Park. Fatal Bullet also scored at Presque Isle Downs. Northern Netti was successful at Belmont.
Baker also started horses this year at Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Monmouth, Colonial Downs, Pimlico, Charles Town, and the Ocala Training Center.
From 50 starts at the various U.S. locales, Baker compiled a record of 10-7-4 for purses of $971,575.
And, Baker will be looking to add to that total before 2008 comes to a close.
Fatal Bullet is at Santa Anita and is pointing for the Grade 1, $250,000 Malibu, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds on Dec. 26. His stablemates Kentucky Bear and Chief Bear, also owned by Dion, are there pointing for upcoming allowance races.
Baker cites Fatal Bullet's second-place finish in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita and his dominant win over older horses here in the 6 1/2-furlong Bold Venture as particular highlights of his training campaign. Northern Netti's win in the seven-furlong Bouwerie at Belmont also gets an honorable mention.
But there have been major disappointments as well.
Bear Holiday, who had been undefeated in three starts and had finished second in the Sovereign Award voting for male 2-year-old last year, never recovered from a fractured pelvis and cracked vertebrae and had to be euthanized when he started losing his coordination in Florida while on the farm in Florida this past summer.
Kentucky Bear, who had finished a close third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, was at Churchill Downs preparing for the Kentucky Derby but did not have enough graded earnings to make the 20-horse starting lineup.
"He was there, training brilliantly, ready to go," said Baker.
Baker himself is getting ready to go down to Palm Meadows in south Florida, where he will have 20 to 25 horses.
Meanwhile, Baker plans to be very active through the remainder of the Woodbine meet.
The barn's week begins Thursday with five entrants, headed by recent graduates Bear's Lightning and Madam Toumanova, who are solid contenders in first-level allowances.
On Friday, Baker has entered Jimmymac Bear and Bear's Ali, both of whom also won their maidens last time out, in a first-level allowance.
Baker also has a pair of candidates for Saturday's $125,000 Display, an open 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds, in Bear's Rocket and Saint Reade.
Bear's Rocket captured a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles in his latest, while Saint Bear won his maiden at a mile and 70 yards.
Baker is particularly high on Bear's Rocket and already has him pegged as a candidate for the Grade 2, $250,000 Fountain of Youth, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream on Feb. 28.
In addition to Bear's Rocket, Saint Reade, Jimmymac Bear, and Bear's Ali, Baker's Florida string include the proven stakes performers Monty's Best and High Mist.
Monty's Best finished a solid second when making just his third career start in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs in his last start on Nov. 1.
High Mist won her first three starts here, including the six-furlong Fanfreluche, before faltering as the odds-on choice in the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth.
There will also be many more bears from the stable of Danny Dion.
Bearcatt, Bear's Conductor, Bear's Lightning, Bear's Prospector, and Saint Bear all promise to keep Baker and his stable from hibernating.
Attfield enters three in Calder stakes
Callwood Dancer, a contender for the Sovereign Award in the filly and mare turf category, will continue her campaign for trainer Roger Attfield in Saturday's My Charmer at Calder.
The My Charmer, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares, offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $100,000.
Callwood Dancer, a 4-year-old filly, won the Grade 2 Nassau here this past spring and later finished second in both the Grade 2 Canadian and the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor.
Attfield also has entered Spice Route and Simmard in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap.
Spice Route, a 4-year-old gelding, was the runner-up in this year's Grade 1 Canadian International and is a Sovereign Award contender in the older turf male category.
Simmard, a 3-year-old colt, is coming off a first-level allowance win at 1 1/8 miles on turf. His regular rider, Robert Landry, has the call.
Ginger Brew will await Frances Genter
Ginger Brew, a top contender for Sovereign Award honors in the 3-year-old filly division, also had been slated to contest the My Charmer but will await the Frances Genter at Calder on Dec. 27.
"It will be our last chance to run her against straight 3-year-olds," said trainer Brian Lynch.
The Frances Genter, a 7 1/2-furlong turf race for 3-year-old fillies, also offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $100,000.
Lynch, who is at Palm Meadows, is scheduled to have his first starter at the Calder meeting on Friday when Bahia Girl runs in a first-level optional $16,000 claiming race at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.