03/20/2003 1:00AM

Be aware which trainers have horses fit to fire


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The brutally cold and snowy winter in southern Ontario this year made training conditions at Woodbine much more difficult than usual.

After opening in early February, Woodbine's training track was closed several times because of the inclement conditions. The main track opened to rave reviews on Monday, and should be in relatively good shape for opening weekend, if there is no significant rainfall.

Trainer John Cardella said his horses, including five-furlong track record holder Olympian, didn't miss much training time.

"It was a very rough winter, one of the worst we've had in a long time," Cardella said. "The weather has been awful, but I've only missed about three days of training because the track was closed, since I shipped in on Feb. 9. It hasn't been a disaster. [Track superintendent] Ron Aspden has done a wonderful job of keeping the training track in shape. I don't think the horses minded it too much, but it's been tough on the help."

Cardella won with four of his 20 starters during the first month of the 2002 Woodbine meeting. Other trainers who were quick out of the blocks during that same time period included Mark Casse (30 percent), Rita Schnitzler (27 percent), Bob Tiller (24 percent), Wray Lawrence (20 percent), Scott Fairlie (19 percent), Tino Attard (19 percent), and Laurie Silvera (19 percent).

Patrick Husbands led the rider standings through the first month of 2002, winning with 20 of 90 mounts.

Shippers who have been training or competing in the United States this year are widely perceived to have an advantage during the early weeks of the meeting, especially in the longer sprints and routes.

Horses coming from Gulfstream and Laurel won the most races of any shippers during the first month of racing here last year - both tracks had identical 5-for-26 records. Gulfstream runners had an additional 10 in-the-money finishes, compared with five for Laurel.

Shippers from Tampa Bay Downs and Aqueduct had the same record during the first month in 2002: 3 for 13.

Fair Grounds invaders were just 1 for 16 with three seconds and a pair of thirds. Here are the records of the other shippers during the first month of 2002: Philadelphia Park, 1 for 5; Santa Anita, 0 for 1; Golden Gate, 1 for 1; Turfway Park, 0 for 3; Penn National, 1 for 2; Mountaineer, 0 for 1; Sportsman's Park, 0 for 2; Ocala Training Center, 1 for 2; Suffolk Downs, 0 for 5; and Charles Town, 0 for 1.

Locally trained horses with breakaway speed have usually been effective in the early season five-furlong sprints. Such runners can possess an edge over front-running shippers, who are susceptible to cracking under pressure because of a quicker pace when they shorten up in distance.

Woodbine won't bring back pick six

Woodbine is not planning on reintroducing the pick six this year, according to Stephen Mitchell, Woodbine Entertainment's vice president of wagering operations.

"We dropped the pick six on the Standardbred side due to lack of sufficient wagering," Mitchell said. "I'm of the opinion that our Thoroughbreds were under the same scenario. The only time we exceeded $100,000 on the pick six was on Breeders' Cup Day."

Pick six and win four wagering was suspended pending an investigation by the Canadian Parimutuel Agency after the so-called "Fix Six" scandal surrounding the 2002 Breeders' Cup. The win four was reintroduced in December.

Effective March 29, WEG will lower its share of the takeout on the win four from 23 percent to 14.75 percent. With taxes, the total win four takeout will be 18 percent.

"We weren't allowed to offer the win four for a long time," Mitchell said. "We're going to promote the hell out of [the takeout reduction], with the hope that we can get our customers interested in the win four again."

Earlier this year, WEG reduced its share of the takeout on United States simulcasts by 1 percent for exactor and daily double bets, and by .1 percent for win, place, and show wagers.

* Racing fans can participate in the 2003 Queen's Plate Fantasy Challenge at www.Woodbineentertainment.com/fantasy. Contestants must pick 10 Queen's Plate eligible horses, along with three trainers and three jockeys, which will form their mythical QP stable. The contest is free to enter, and those with the highest point totals will win prizes.