07/23/2006 11:00PM

Canadians run 1-2-3-4 in Northern Dancer


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It tried to rain on Woodbine's parade here Sunday, as an early afternoon deluge led to the cancellation of the last seven dirt races on the day set aside for this racetrack's 50th anniversary celebration.

But the afternoon was far from a washout thanks to the E.P. Taylor turf course, which honored its commitment to host the two later grass stakes on the program.

The highlight, as intended, was the inaugural running of the Grade 2, $697,800 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf, a 1 1/2-mile race that was the centerpiece of the day's festivities.

And while some in the crowd of about 10,000 may have hit the high and dry road hours earlier, for the faithful the Northern Dancer was well worth the wait.

Sky Conqueror, a 4-year-old colt owned and bred by Bill Sorokolit and trained by Darwin Banach, led a sweep of the first four spots by the Canadian-breds in the Northern Dancer's field of seven.

Ridden by Todd Kabel, who has had an extremely hot hand of late, Sky Conqueror was a relative newcomer to the stakes-winning ranks, having recorded his first added-money victory in the Grade 2 King Edward over 1 1/8 miles of turf here July 3.

"This was his first time going a mile and a half; he had to overcome that," said the 40-year-old Banach, who is in the midst of his ninth year as a full-fledged trainer.

"Then there was the soft turf, but he'd handled that in the past. It might have hurt some of the other horses more than it hurt us.

"At least, that's the way it turned out to be. We kind of knew he was a good one all along."

Sky Conqueror, having now reaffirmed his mettle in top company, can shoot for the Grade 1, $2 million Canadian International over 1 1/2 miles of turf here Oct. 22.

In the interim, there are local opportunities such as the Grade 2, $300,000 Nijinsky, a 1 1/2-mile turf race Aug. 27, and the Grade 2, $300,000 Sky Classic, a 1 3/8-mile turf race Sept. 24.

"He came out of his race fantastic," Banach said Monday morning. "We're very proud of our horse, what he did. It's the biggest race we've ever won. Hopefully, there will be bigger ones."

Kabel on, off, on again

Kabel, who was recording his sixth consecutive stakes win at Woodbine, had ridden Sky Conqueror to a fourth-place finish in a maiden race here last September and returned to ride him in the King Edward following a six-race hiatus.

"I'd been trying to get back on him this year," said Kabel. "I'm really looking forward to riding him down the road.

"He's just maturing, and he's already very capable. It seems like anything you throw at him, he's there for the challenge."

Millfleet's goal: The Bunty Lawless

Millfleet won Sunday's supporting feature, the $75,000 Ontario Jockey Club Stakes at seven furlongs on turf.

An Ontario-sired 5-year-old gelding owned and bred by Margaret Squires, Millfleet had been transferred to Mike DePaulo's barn this year and was recording his first win in his fifth appearance for his new trainer.

"Dirt or turf, he's a good horse," said DePaulo.

Millfleet's versatility gives DePaulo plenty of options. Those include the $75,000 With Approval, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for Ontario foals here Aug. 13; the Grade 2, $200,000 Play the King over seven furlongs of turf here Aug. 26; and the $125,000 Overskate, a seven-furlong Ontario-sired stakes on the main track here Sept. 20.

But the $125,000 Bunty Lawless, a one-mile turf race for Ontario-sired runners here Oct. 29, is the race ranked highest on Millfleet's agenda.

"That's the key race for him," said DePaulo, who was recording his third stakes victory in eight days with Millfleet.

Shillelagh Slew, who finished second in last Sunday's $500,000 Prince of Wales at Fort Erie but was placed first via a disqualification, was DePaulo's first stakes winner of the year, and Bad Hat won Wednesday's $125,400 Deputy Minister for him here at Woodbine.

"I'm very fortunate to have some real nice horses this year," said DePaulo, who could stake an undisputed claim as the hottest trainer in Ontario if were it not for the recent successes of Bob Tiller.

Tiller's stakes triple

After winning last Saturday's $125,000 Bold Venture here with Are You Serious, Tiller saddled Top Ten List to victory in Sunday's $125,000 Rainbow Connection at Fort Erie.

The Bold Venture was Tiller's third stakes win of the meeting, all coming on Woodbine's recently opened inner track.

Spread the News won the Clarendon on July 8 for Tiller, and Midnight Shadow the Shady Well on July 16.

Are You Serious, a Canadian-bred 4-year-old gelding owned by Tiller in partnership with Frank DiGiulio, won his second stakes while making his fourth start this year in the 7 1/2-furlong Bold Venture. The Bold Venture was his first start around two turns.

A $32,000 local purchase, Are You Serious now will be pointed for yearling sales stakes day here Sept. 4 and probably will be nominated for both the six-furlong Kenora and the 1 1/16-mile Elgin for colts and geldings, both $125,000 races.

"I've always thought he'd go long, too," said Tiller.

Twisted Wit runs Sunday

Twisted Wit, also trained by Tiller but owned by Rolph Davis, was entered for the Bold Venture but scratched in favor of the Grade 3, $125,000 Chinese Cultural Centre here this Sunday.

A 5-year-old gelding, Twisted Wit has not raced around two turns since finishing sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity in 2003.

"I want to take a shot with him going long," said Tiller. "I don't think the race will come up with a big, tough field."

* In the weekend's other Woodbine stakes, Barilko got his second win in as many starts in the $126,200 Colin. Dave Dwyer, owner and trainer of Barilko, also sent out Lakeville Rush to a third-place finish in the Bold Venture. Constant Montpellier rode both Dwyer horses.