06/17/2003 11:00PM

Button Wood takes Plate flyer


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Michael Doyle has enjoyed some success in big races as the underdog. The Doyle-trained Wild Gale finished third in both the 1993 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.

Doyle finds himself cast in a similar role here Sunday, when he saddles the relatively unheralded Button Wood in the $1 million Queen's Plate at 1 1/4 miles.

"He just gets better all the time, it seems," said Doyle. "He's very consistent. He tries hard."

Button Wood, owned and bred by the Eaton Hall Farm of Thor Eaton, spent much of last year at Woodbine but he did not race here.

"He was big and clumsy; he was slowing coming around," said Doyle, adding that Button Wood's progress also was compromised by shin problems.

Button Wood did start before his third birthday, finishing a closing third and for a $50,000 tag in a six-furlong dash at Fair Grounds, which is Doyle's winter base.

"I knew he wanted to go much further," said Doyle.

Button Wood had two additional third-place finishes, both in 1 1/16 mile maiden special weight races in New Orleans, before shipping the gelding to Woodbine in March.

Button Wood ran third for the fourth consecutive time when he cut back to five furlongs for the first race of the Woodbine meeting, and has yet to finish worse than second in four subsequent starts.

After graduating over seven furlongs here April 12, Button Wood stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and was runner-up to Rock Again, one of the leading Plate contenders, in a first-level allowance.

Button Wood comes into the Queen's Plate off back-to-back wins, as he took advantage of his Ontario-bred status to win first-level allowance races at seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles.

While Button Wood was nominated to the major Plate preps here, Doyle had decided early on to take the path of least resistance to the Plate.

"I thought maybe it could all come together for him," said Doyle. "I talked to Thor about it, and we were going to keep him in the easiest spots we could."

Now Plate Day is near, and Doyle figures Button Wood's demeanor and racing style are in his favor.

"He's a very laid-back horse, nothing bothers him," said Doyle. "The whole Plate ordeal will be a breeze for him. And he finishes well. I think the Plate distance is perfect for him."

Sutherland to ride Button Wood

Button Wood's emergence has coincided with his introduction to jockey Chantal Sutherland, who has been aboard for his last four starts.

Sutherland, Canada's champion apprentice the past two seasons, will be riding in her second Plate. She finished last of 13 with longshot Streakin Rob last year.

Doyle will be saddling his seventh Plate entrant. His best previous finish was a fourth with the filly Blondeinamotel in 1989.

The Doyle-trained Cree Power, 11th in last year's Plate, is a main-track-only entrant for Friday's feature, a second-level allowance over 6 1/2 furlongs of turf.

All Star Lover looks tough

All Star Lover, second at one mile on the turf here June 1, is the horse to beat in Friday's $67,600 headliner, a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint.

Owned by Daniel Smucker and trained by Peter Berringer, All Star Lover ran well in turf sprints here last summer, winning at seven and 6 1/2 furlongs.

Patrick Husbands, who was aboard for the 6 1/2-furlong turf win and a subsequent score at the same distance on the main track, returns to the saddle Friday.

The other leading contender in the field of 14 is Sir Blitz, who registered a $61 upset at the same distance on turf in his meet bow here June 8.

Sir Blitz is trained by Danny Vella. David Clark has the mount.

Seeking the Ring eyes rematch

Seeking the Ring worked Wednesday for the first time since finishing second in the June 8 Labatt Woodbine Oaks, breezing five furlongs in 1:02.40 under regular rider Todd Kabel on the main track.

Owned by Sam-Son Farm and trained by Mark Frostad, Seeking the Ring is gearing up for a rematch with Oaks winner Too Late Now in Fort Erie's July 1 Labatt Bison City, which follows the Oaks as the second leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara.

The $250,000 Bison City, a 1 1/16-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, attracted 10 nominees.

Indy Lead tunes up for Dominion Day

Indy Lead, tuning up for the Grade 3 Dominion Day Handicap here July 1, worked four furlongs in 47.40 seconds on the training track here Wednesday.

Kabel was aboard for the work but is expected to miss the $200,000 Dominion Day, a 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward, because he will be riding Seeking the Ring out of town that day.

Indy Lead, owned by Charles Fipke and trained by Roger Attfield, is coming off a second-place finish here June 7 in the 1 1/8-mile allowance prep for the Dominion Day.

Small Promises works

Small Promises, Canada's reigning champion older filly or mare, worked four furlongs on the training track for Attfield Wednesday, going in 48.40 under regular rider Jim McAleney.

Owned by Attfield in partnership with Kinghaven Farm, Small Promise will be looking to defend her title in Fort Erie's June 29 Harry A. Hindmarsh, a 1 1/16-mile race restricted to fillies and mares who went through the ring in specified local sales.

The Hindmarsh, worth $75,000, attracted eight nominees.