10/07/2003 12:00AM

Brighter outlook for Arco's Gold


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The pieces finally appear to be coming together for Arco's Gold, who runs in Monday's $150,000 Ontario Derby.

The Ontario Derby, a Grade 3 race for 3-year-olds, goes at 1 1/8 miles, the distance at which Arco's Gold became a stakes winner here in last fall's Coronation Futurity.

Making just his third start there, Arco's Gold actually dead-heated with Mobil for the top prize in the Coronation, but was awarded sole possession via a disqualification.

Aiming for the Queen's Plate, Arco's Gold wintered in Florida but fell ill upon returning to Woodbine, and missed precious time and conditioning.

Arco's Gold competed in all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, with his best result a second-place finish to Wando in the Prince of Wales. He was given a break after finishing last of eight in his turf debut in the Breeders' here on Aug. 9.

"He had time to catch up and freshen up, and it's really showed a difference in him," said John Ross, who trains Arco's Gold for Alex and Steven DiIorio. "He seems to thrive this time of year, as well."

Ross had hoped to run Arco's Gold in the Sept. 19 allowance prep for the Ontario Derby, but the race didn't fill. So Ross entered Arco's Gold here on Sept. 21 in a third-level turf allowance for 3-year-olds and upward, hoping that the 1 1/16-mile race would be switched to the main track.

It was, and Arco's Gold did his bit by rallying for a three-length score that earned him a lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure of 95 and gave him a needed race under his belt.

Dance Engagement to run in Ontario Derby

Ross will also send out Dance Engagement in the Ontario Derby. Dance Engagement is owned Hillsbrook Farm of Garland Williamson.

Dance Engagement has started six times this year, finishing a close second in the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park and fifth in the Queen's Plate in his second and third appearances.

In three subsequent outings, each over 1 1/16 miles, Dance Engagement won his maiden, finished fourth in a first-level allowance, and then scored at that class here Sept. 21.

Ross is inclined to dismiss the first allowance effort, where Dance Engagement could not mount an effective rally from off the pace.

"He got shuffled back, and he got too much dirt in his face," said Ross. "He pins his ears back, and will not run into it. He likes to be in a little bit more comfortable spot, up close."

Wild Whiskey set after short layoff

Ross is also looking forward to running Wild Whiskey in the six-furlong Highlander Handicap here on Oct. 19, Canadian International Day. The 4-year-old colt is owned by Gary Wellwood and Larry Titchner,

The Highlander, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and upward, offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $150,000.

Wild Whiskey, who became a stakes winner in the 6 1/2-furlong Woodstock here in April 2002, has been plagued by foot problems throughout his career.

Quick off the mark, Wild Whiskey has scored just once in six starts this year, in a 6 1/2-furlong classified allowance here on June 22.

The Highlander would be Wild Whiskey's first start since Sept. 1, when he finished third behind fellow Highlander nominees Forever Grand and Mulligan the Great in the six-furlong Kenora.

"There's issues with him, where I can't run him too often," said Ross. "I have to play kind of catch-up, and give him time to regroup."

Mulligan the Great eyes Highlander

Mulligan the Great is also nominated to the $125,000 Bunty Lawless, a one-mile turf race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward, here Oct. 18.

But Cliff Hopmans, who trains Mulligan the Great for Charles Simmons, is leaning toward the Highlander, where the 4-year-old gelding would be seeking his third sprint stakes victory of the year.

"I think it's a more important race," said Hopmans. "It's more money, and it's a more prestigious spot. That's the one I would prefer to win, and I think he's good enough to win it."

Mulligan the Great already has been good enough to win four of his seven starts this year, including the seven-furlong Overskate and 6 1/2-furlong Bold Venture. He is one of the leading candidates for the Sovereign Award in the sprinter category.

Forever Grand has won three sprint stakes, having captured the six-furlong New Providence and 6 1/2-furlong Shepperton in addition to the Kenora. He has, however, come out on the short end of two of his three encounters with Mulligan the Great.

Classic Stamp ready for Carotene

Hopmans will be represented by Classic Stamp in the $150,000 Carotene, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies that will be the co-feature on the holiday Monday program.

Owned and bred by Bill Sorokolit Sr., Classic Stamp has started six times in a career that began June 28, recording two wins, two seconds, and two thirds.

Classic Stamp won her maiden at 1 1/16 miles on the main track Aug. 1, and a first-level allowance over 1 1/8 miles of turf Sept. 7.

In her last appearance, Classic Stamp finished third as the odds-on choice in the Carotene prep, a 1 1/16-mile allowance race that was taken off the turf.

"We got hung out really wide on the first turn, and had a couple of excuses in there," said Hopmans. "A mile and an eighth on the turf was her best race, I thought, and we're coming back at the same distance on the same surface.

"I'm quite looking forward to seeing how she performs on the turf again."