10/16/2006 12:00AM

Big-race contenders sharpen up


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The European contingent checked in at Woodbine late Sunday afternoon with four runners slated for the Canadian International, one for the E.P. Taylor, and two for the Nearctic here at Woodbine on Sunday.

The Grade 1, $2 million Canadian International, a turf race for 3-year-olds and up, is expected to attract a field of 10, with Better Talk Now, a candidate for both the International and the Breeders' Cup Turf, still on the fence as of Monday morning.

The Europeans in the Canadian International are:

o Kastoria, a 5-year-old mare who will be seeking her fourth consecutive victory. She won the Group 1 Irish St. Leger in her last start.

o The Last Drop, a 3-year-old colt who finished second last time out in the Group 1 English St. Leger.

o Collier Hill, an 8-year-old gelding who has banked almost $2 million.

o Blue Monday, a 5-year-old gelding who ran third in both the Groupo1 Juddmonte International and Eclipse Stakes this summer.

The Grade 1, $1 million E.P. Taylor, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for fillies and mares, could have up to 12 entrants, including the talented English filly Red Bloom, who is trained by Sir Michael Stoute.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Nearctic, a six-furlong turf race for 3-year-olds and up, could wind up with as many as 14 runners, including the Irish invaders Moss Vale and Peace Offering, trained by David Nicholls.

American trio tune up

Three of the prospective U.S. invaders for the Canadian International worked at their home bases on Sunday.

Relaxed Gesture, the race's defending champion, and Go Deputy, who will be one of the favorites, both breezed on turf at Belmont. Relaxed Gesture went four furlongs in 52 seconds, Go Deputy five in 1:01.80.

Meteor Storm, runner-up in last year's Canadian International, drilled six furlongs in 1:12.80 over Keeneland's Polytrack surface.

Last Answer, Jambalaya get ready

Last Answer and Jambalaya, who - along with Sky Conqueror - form the local contingent for the Canadian International, had their final major tuneups on Saturday.

Last Answer, with regular rider Emile Ramsammy up, went a mile over a yielding turf course in 1:43.60.

"I thought it was a pretty decent work, considering how wide he was," said Keogh, who trains Last Answer for owner and breeder Gustav Schickedanz. "They had the dogs out, and Emile kept him right on the outside fence."

Jambalaya, working on Polytrack under his regular rider Jono Jones, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80.

"He started off easy, picked it up nicely, and finished well, into a headwind," said Catherine Day Phillips, who trains Jambalaya for Kingfield Racing Stable Ltd.

Arravale works to perfection

Woodbine-based Arravale, winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks this summer, tuned up for the E.P. Taylor with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 over Polytrack here Monday.

Arravale, a 3-year-old who will be ridden by Jose Valdivia in the Taylor, had apprentice rider Michelle Rainford in the irons for Monday's drill.

"I said I wanted to go in about a minute," said Mac Benson, who trains Arravale for Bob Costigan. "She hit the nail right on the head."

Kabel works Ambitious Cat

Ambitious Cat, another locally based candidate for the E.P. Taylor, worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Polytrack here Sunday for trainer Eric Coatrieux.

Regular rider Todd Kabel was aboard Ambitious Cat, who went in company with stablemate Skipped Bail, a maiden 3-year-old gelding who was clocked in 1:03.20.

"I think she's in good order right now," said Kabel. "She seemed really happy."

Ambitious Cat was a close third in last year's E.P. Taylor.