07/05/2007 12:00AM

Benson aims to end Poly 0-fer


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Mac Benson has sent out six winners from his first 22 starters at Woodbine this year.

But, the strange thing is that Benson's record is 6 for 13 on turf but 0 for 9 on Polytrack here this year.

Benson will be looking to put a Polytrack win on his ledger here Saturday when he sends out Druids Mound for the $150,000 Clarendon, a 5 1/2-furlong stakes for Ontario-foaled 2-year-olds.

Benson has watched Druids Mound finish second in each of his two starts, including a nose defeat in his latest here June 10.

"He looked like he improved off his first race," said Benson. "We had to send him, because he drew an inside post.

"He's just been a real pleasant surprise. He's a very small horse."

Druids Mound will race with Lasix for the first time in the Clarendon after breezing five furlongs in 1:01.80 with the medication here last Sunday.

Pugilistic healthy for stakes debut

Sunday, Pugilistic will make her stakes debut for Benson in the Ontario Damsel, a 6 1/2-furlong turf race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies.

"We didn't get to run her last year," said Benson. "This year, she's kind of lived up to expectations."

Pugilistic won her maiden over seven furlongs of turf in her first career start here May 21 and then was beaten a head when second behind the 4-year-old Riverada in a first-level allowance over 6 1/2 furlongs of turf on June 6.

Pugilistic was entered in another first-level turf allowance on June 27 but was a vet scratch.

"She had some new hay, and it gave her a bit of a bellyache," said Benson. "To be on the safe side, we got out of there."

Sehgal sustains first turf loss

Sehgal, a 3-year-old gelding who also races for Benson, debuted here May 26 with a maiden special win over seven furlongs on turf and ran his record to 2 for 2 with a first-level allowance win over 1 1/16 miles of grass on June 22.

On Thursday, Sehgal suffered his first defeat in an optional claiming race at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"We knew he was bred to go on the grass, and bred to go long," said Benson. "We just didn't know how much horse we had."

Sehgal is nominated to the $150,000 Toronto Cup, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds here July 14.

But Benson also has Ice Bear on tap for the Toronto Cup, and it is not likely that both will participate.

Ice Bear was tabbed as the barn's Queen's Plate horse this year, but that dream died when the gelding faltered badly in a first-level allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack here May 19.

"I was so disappointed," said Benson. "I actually thought I would make the Plate with him."

The good news is that Ice Bear switched to turf and has put together back-to-back victories, the first in a first-level allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs on June 3 and the second in the one-mile Charlie Barley, an overnight stakes here June 24.

Arravale ready for Dance Smartly

Arravale, Canada's champion turf female and Horse of the Year for Benson and Costigan last year, remains on target to make her seasonal bow in the Grade 2, $300,000 Dance Smartly here July 22.

The Dance Smartly, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares, would be Arravale's first start since she won the Grade 1, $1 million E.P. Taylor over 1 1/4 miles on soft turf Oct. 22.

Catch the Thrill returns in allowance

Catch the Thrill, Canada's champion 2-year-old filly last year, will make her first start of 2007 here Saturday in a second-level allowance over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

The race could serve as Catch the Thrill's prep for the $250,000 Wonder Where, a 1 1/4-mile turf race here July 28 which is the final leg of the triple tiara for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

"It's a lot to ask, a mile and an eighth on turf first time out," said Mark Frostad, who trains Catch the Thrill. "But we've got to get a start into her if we're going to try and make the Wonder Where."

Catch the Thrill underwent knee surgery after concluding her first campaign here with a second-place finish in the Princess Elizabeth.

The filly did not come around as quickly as expected over the winter and missed her major target, the 1o1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks, which opened the triple tiara series on June 10. She was withheld from last Sunday's Bison City, the second leg of the series.

Strike Softly likely done for the year

Strike Softly, who had kicked off her 4-year-old campaign with back-to-back stakes victories for Frostad, has been sidelined indefinitely by a suspensory injury.

"I don't think we'll see her again this year," said Frostad.

Strike Softly won the Grade 3 Hendrie over 6 1/2 furlongs of Polytrack here May 13 and the Gradeo2 Nassau over 1 1/16 miles of turf on June 2.

That versatility has become a trademark for Strike Softly, who was a Sovereign Award finalist in both the older female and turf female categories last year after winning three stakes and placing in three others under a variety of conditions.

* Woodbine will be hosting a fund-raiser for the Canadian Spinal Research Organization on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. on the second floor of the grandstand. Those making a donation to the research organization can have their picture taken with one of the Woodbine jockeys, Mohawk drivers, and National Hockey League players who will be on hand.