05/27/2005 12:00AM

Belated return for favorite


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The list of nominees for Sunday's Grade 3, $164,850 Connaught Cup Stakes at Woodbine was an impressive one, including reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Soaring Free and 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now.

When the entries were drawn for the race, however, none of the big guns showed up, leaving the consistent Le Cinquieme Essai as the likely favorite in the 1 1/16-mile grass event.

Le Cinquieme Essai has been campaigned almost exclusively on the grass by trainer Paul Nielsen since he won the Sovereign Award for champion 3-year-old in 2002. He won 3 of 6 starts last year, including two stakes, and was beaten a nose by Slew Valley when second in the Connaught.

Le Cinquieme Essai was supposed to make his first start of the year in the allowance prep for the Connaught on May 15, but was scratched when the race was taken off the grass. Nielsen said he wasn't concerned about missing the prep.

"It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "He's dead fit. He had a nice breeze on the grass last Sunday, going five-eighths in 1:02. It wasn't very fast, but he finished absolutely terrific. He came out of it in excellent condition. He's ready to run.

"I didn't want to run him on [Woodbine's main track], because coming off of it in the past, he's gotten all flustered and washed out in his next race. He was worried about it, and I didn't want to do that again."

Nielsen said Le Cinquieme Essai has continued to mature as he's gotten older.

"He's still going very forward," Nielsen said. "He's very sound. He's doing as good as he could possibly be doing. I'm very content with him."

Trainer Mark Frostad entered Silver Ticket and Burst of Fire in the Connaught.

Silver Ticket captured the Grade 3 Toronto Cup Handicap last July before running third as the favorite in the Breeders' Stakes. He was second to Le Cinquieme Essai in the Nov. 7 Labeeb Stakes and finished fourth in an allowance at Keeneland on April 17, his season opener.

"He got into a lot of trouble in the race at Keeneland," Frostad said.

Burst of Fire, second in the 2004 Breeders', hasn't run since his seventh-place finish in the Oct. 24 Pattison Canadian International.

"He's been training great," Frostad said. "He's been ready to run for a long time. He's not going to need a race, but it might not be far enough for him."