06/09/2005 11:00PM

Bonnycastle's mark is all over Woodbine Oaks field


Fans at Woodbine for Sunday's Labatt Woodbine Oaks are going to have a love-in with a team of fillies from Harlequin Publishing giant Dick Bonnycastle, whose Manitoba homebred Gold Strike will rule as the heavy favorite.

Bonnycastle, who founded Harlequin in 1949 and then began publishing his company's famous romance novels in 1964, has been in racing and breeding for more than three decades.

His familiar black and white diamond silks have been seen at numerous Canadian racetracks over the years, aboard such horses at Nice Dancer, Pleasure Bent, and Caught Out.

Tony Goswell has been Bonnycastle's racing and breeding manager for 25 years. He said he believes that this could be the owner's best year in the business.

"Dick was big in the 80's," said Goswell, a native of England. "He bought a farm near Orangeville, Ontario, at that time, but when the market went soft, he sold it. Now we're getting big again and we're having a pretty exciting year so far."

Exciting indeed, since Bonnycastle owns three Oaks starters outright - Gold Strike, Whiskey and Low, and Pirouetting, all homebreds - and two-thirds of the undefeated Bosskiri.

His filly Three Degrees, of whom he owns 50 percent, just won Hollywood Park's Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap last weekend.

Gold Strike will be odds-on to keep the Harlequin roll going. A powerful daughter of Smart Strike, Gold Strike comes off a dominating win in the Grade 3 Selene over open company.

Her Beyer Speed Figure of 97 for the 1 1/16-mile Selene is among the highest for any 3-year-old in Canada and plans are for her to head to the June 26 Queen's Plate if all goes well in the Oaks.

Bonnycastle purchased Gold Strike's dam, the unraced Brassy Gold (by Dixieland Brass), from Russ Bennett in British Columbia.

"Dick purchased her with the idea to breed her to Smart Strike," said Goswell, who operates Harlequin Ranches South in Ocala, Fla. "He's very good with the bloodlines."

Brassy Gold is a daughter of the stakes-winning mare Panning for Gold, who won the Tattling Handicap for Bob Harvey in 1981 and then produced three stakes-placed runners.

Brassy Gold produced the winner Copper Kid, a son of Ares Vallis, before her date with Smart Strike.

Gold Strike began her career in her home province, winning the restricted Debutante and Buffalo stakes. She was named the year's champion 2-year-old filly in Manitoba and was sent to Woodbine-based trainer Reade Baker.

Gold Strike was second in the Star Shoot Stakes in her Ontario debut before the Selene romp.

Bonnycastle no longer owns Brassy Gold, having sold the mare privately to Manitoba-based trainer Tom Dodds after Gold Strike was foaled.

Brassy Gold produced a colt, named Kestrel, by the Afleet stallion Shrike in 2003 before Dodds sold her to Kentucky interests.

Harlequin has 15 mares that are foaling at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, as well as another two in Europe.

"We usually sell our colts and keep the fillies for breeding," said Goswell, who said Bonnycastle has two colts in training this year.

Gold Strike would be the first Manitoba-bred winner of the Oaks should she perform as expected on Sunday.