12/04/2003 1:00AM

Canada's best to be honored


TORONTO, Ontario - The outstanding performers in Canadian Thoroughbred racing and breeding will be honored Saturday at the 29th annual Sovereign Awards gala.

A crowd of about 300 is expected at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The evening's denouement will be the announcement of the three finalists and the winner of the Sovereign Award as Canada's Horse of the Year.

Wando, winner of the Canadian Triple Crown, is the leading candidate for Canadian Horse of the Year honors and a shoo-in to be named champion 3-year-old colt or gelding.

Earlier, awards will be presented to the winners of nine equine divisions, plus the outstanding jockey, apprentice jockey, trainer, owner, breeder, and broodmare.

Wando's owner and breeder, Gustav Schickedanz, and trainer, Mike Keogh, are up for honors in their categories.

Sam-Son Farm joins Schickedanz in both the owner and breeder categories, with Stronach Stable, as owner, and its breeding arm of Adena Spring completing those short lists.

Bob Tiller, who led all Woodbine trainers in races, money, and stakes won at the recently concluded meeting, is Keogh's main opponent.

Patrick Husbands, who rode Wando to his Canadian Triple Crown, is seeking an unprecedented fifth straight Sovereign as outstanding jockey but will face a stiff challenge from Todd Kabel, who led the Woodbine standings in wins, purses, and number of stakes races won.

Julia Brimo and Jill Scharfstein, the top two apprentice riders at Woodbine, and Hastings-based Nicola Wright comprise a competitive trio of finalists.

There are two Grade 1 winners among this year's equine finalists. Perfect Soul captured the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and Too Late Now won the Selene at Woodbine.

Perfect Soul heads a solid group of turf males, including Soaring Free, who was the Atto Mile runner-up, and Strut the Stage.

Too Late Now will be opposed by Winter Garden and Dancewithavixen in a competitive group of 3-year-old fillies.

The three finalists for each category were determined by 58 voters across Canada, who named their first three choices in each category with points assigned on a 4-2-1 basis.

To be eligible for consideration, horses were required to have made at least three starts in Canada this year prior to the Nov. 16 cutoff date. Jockeys, trainers, owners, and breeders must have been represented by a minimum of 10 entrants.

Sovereign Awards also will be presented in four media categories, with the winners having been determined by the votes of a panel of judges.