07/21/2006 12:00AM

Bethune looks set to make mark


EDMONTON, Alberta - Bethune tops an optional claiming field of six 3-year-olds in Northlands Park's one-mile feature on Sunday, and he appears ready to fulfill expectations after an impressive early-season start and then a poor stakes effort.

Bethune, an Ontario-bred owned by Mary-Jane Sykes, had a second-place finish and then two wire-to-wire victories for trainer Floyd Arthur, only to disappoint in the Hoofprint on My Heart. After finishing more than 35 lengths behind the winner, My Guy, in that Stampede Park stakes, Bethune was given five weeks off to regroup. Bethune returned to action in an optional claimer here July 7 and showed marked improvement by finishing second.

On Sunday, Bethune will be reunited with Quincy Welch in a partnership that looked so impressive in the spring while he rose from the claiming ranks.

Bethune's opponents include a pair who turned in undistinguished efforts in the Alberta Derby. Fever, who had opened the season with a couple of wins, and Tejano Trouble finished sixth

and 11th, respectively, in that 1 1/16-mile feature. Three weeks after the derby failure, Tejano Trouble scored his maiden victory at Sunday's distance.

Explosion finished a fourth in the President's Handicap and went on to win and finish second in sprints, but he has not started since finishing a well-beaten fourth in mid-June.