05/17/2004 11:00PM

Benson pair stakes-tuned

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Mac Benson had plenty to celebrate here on Sunday when Nashinda and Inish Glora, his only two starters on the card, won their respective allowance tests.

And the victories by Nashinda and Inish Glora were of more than immediate importance because both were tuning up for rich races down the road.

"Everything went according to plan, for a change," said Benson, who is pointing Nashinda for the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks on June 13 and Inish Glora for the $250,000 Nassau here June 5.

Nashinda, a 3-year-old filly, ran in only two races before going to the sidelines last summer and had not seen action in more than 10 months when she resurfaced for the six-furlong Star Shoot here April 25.

Benson, with the 1 1/8-mile Oaks uppermost in his thoughts, passed on the May 9 Fury at seven furlongs and had nominated Nashinda to the 1 1/16-mile Selene next Sunday.

In the meantime, he saw that there was a 1 1/16-mile second-level allowance race for fillies and mares, 3 and up, in the condition book last Sunday.

"I had that race in the back of my mind," said Benson, who trains Nashinda for the Augustin Stable of owner-breeder George Strawbridge. "If the race hadn't went, I would have used the Selene as a backup.

"I thought it was imperative to get a two-turn race into my filly, but I didn't really want to run her in the Selene first time around two turns," he said.

"It could turn up to be a very tough race, and I didn't want her to have a bad experience. I wanted a good experience into her."

Nashinda certainly held up her end of the plan, cruising to a front-running victory under David Clark and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 91.

"I was very pleased," said Benson. "I thought she rated very kindly."

Meanwhile, Inish Glora, a 6-year-old mare owned by Bob Costigan, won an allowance prep for the Nassau over one mile of turf in her 2004 debut under regular rider Todd Kabel.

Inish Glora, Canada's champion turf filly or mare in 2003, was making her first start since last Oct. 19, a seventh-place finish in the E.P. Taylor Stakes.

"I hadn't really buckled down on her," said Benson. "I told Todd she won't be ready for a real hard race, but she's ready to get a nice race into her. I think that's what we did."

The Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, is a Grade 3.

Rock Again set up well for Eclipse

Rock Again, who launched a comeback with a victory in a second-level allowance here May 1, breezed six furlongs in 1:15.60 Wednesday and is heading for Monday's Eclipse Handicap.

Jockey Jim McAleney was aboard for the drill, over a fast main track, and he retains the mount on Rock Again for the Grade 3, $150,000 Eclipse, a 1 1/16-mile race for 4-year-olds and up.

Rock Again, a 4-year-old colt owned by Stronach Stable, suffered a hairline fracture in a hind leg during last year's running of the Queen's Plate while running third.

Making his first start in more than 10 months, and his first for trainer Danny Vella, Rock Again rallied from well off the pace for a head victory at 6 1/2 furlongs on May 1.

"He seems to be in great order," said Vella. "He's a nice little horse - he loves to run and he loves to win. That's a nice kind to have."

Vella also plans to send out Mark One, a 5-year-old Stronach Stable gelding who won the allowance prep for the Eclipse in the holiday Monday feature.

Rock Again will carry 115 pounds, while Mark One is listed at 114 pounds with regular rider Robert Landry slated to ride.

Patton of Gold or Dawn Watcher?

Patton of Gold and Dawn Watcher are the top contenders in Thursday's Woodbine feature, a $50,000 claimer going a mile on the grass.

Patton of Gold should be fit after spending the winter in Florida with trainer Tino Attard.

A late-running 6-year-old, Patton of Gold ended up third in back-to-back $62,500 claimers in January and March at Gulfstream, including one in which he was bumped hard at the break. He has been absent for seven weeks since his most recent Gulfstream outing, a fifth-place finish in an entry-level allowance.

Dawn Watcher was claimed for $47,500 last Nov. 20 by trainer Abraham Katryan, who sent him out nine days later to a fourth-place finish in an $80,000 optional claimer. Dawn Watcher was sixth when he came off the sidelines April 17, in the six-furlong Jacques Cartier Stakes.

Dawn Watcher has won 2 of 8 starts on the grass, and has two five-furlong bullet works heading into this race.

Also entered are Don't Seven Out, Karra Kul, High Speed Travel, Creek's Shore, Gabby Lou, Place All Bets, Wolf Howl, and Lunar Secret.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink