04/25/2003 12:00AM

Canani confident his filly can compete


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nick Canani has seen enough of how 3-year-olds can change in a moment's notice that he has absolutely no reservations about running Island Fashion against the best of her class in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.

"Buddy Gil jumped up in just a couple of races and became a major Derby contender," said Canani. "A filly like Farda Amiga came from out of nowhere last year to win the Oaks. It's not that uncommon for a 3-year-old to get good really quick."

Canani is hoping that Island Fashion is on that accelerated path to stardom. Before her last start, Island Fashion was merely a maiden after having lost her first two races. Then she posted an impressive victory in the inaugural running of the $250,000 WinStar Oaks at Sunland Park in New Mexico, vindicating Canani's long-held faith in her and earning her a berth in the Oaks.

"Maybe I tend to fall in love with my horses too easily, but I've always thought this was a special filly, very special," said Canani. "I really like her chances Friday."

Canani said he is especially confident that Island Fashion will fare better as the distances get longer. The 1 1/8-mile Oaks will be farther than most of the fillies in the field have ever raced. Island Fashion raced well off the pace in the one-mile WinStar before rallying to win by two lengths.

Island Fashion is a gray homebred owned by Everest Stables, who raced the filly's sire, Petionville. She arrived at Churchill soon after the WinStar and has trained well since then, said Canani. Pat Valenzuela, perhaps the hottest rider in Southern California the last year or so, has the mount.

Island Fashion figures to be one of the middle wagering choices in the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks, for which 12 fillies are listed by Churchill officials as likely to run. The probable favorites are Elloluv and Lady Tak, the one-two finishers in the recent Ashland Stakes; My Boston Gal, winner of the Beaumont Stakes; and the Bob Baffert duo of Santa Catarina and Atlantic Ocean.

The other likely starters are Bird Town, Go for Glamour, Holiday Lady, In Case of Wind, My Trusty Cat, and Yell.

In the only Oaks work of the day, longshot In Case of Wind breezed five furlongs over a sloppy surface Friday in 1:02 at the nearby Trackside training facility. In Case of Wind is trained by Bill Million, who is based year-round at Trackside.

Amoss plays waiting game

Though he won't make a final decision whether to run until Tuesday, Tom Amoss, the trainer of Lone Star Sky, certainly sounds like a man pointing his horse to the Kentucky Derby.

Amoss, who trains Lone Star Sky for owner Buddy New, said he wants to see how the colt works on Tuesday and if the complexion of the field changes before committing to the race. Friday, he gave his reasons why he is even thinking about it in the first place with a colt who has not won since last September's Cradle Stakes at River Downs.

"Number one, Churchill's where he ran his biggest race,'' Amoss said, referring to Lone Star Sky's stakes-record performance in last summer's six-furlong Bashford Manor. Discussing Lone Star Sky's 12 3/4-length loss in the Illinois Derby, Amoss said, "It's our feeling the Hawthorne surface was something he didn't care for. I can honestly say going into the first turn I felt that way immediately.''

Despite having won just one graded stakes, Lone Star Sky has earned $343,935 in graded stakes money, placing him behind only Empire Maker, Peace Rules, Kafwain, and Buddy Gil among those 3-year-olds pointing to the Derby.

"He's not fifth on the graded money-earnings list with this field because he's any slouch,'' Amoss said. "We're anticipating him moving forward. He hasn't done that to this point."

Amoss said if he and New decide to skip the Kentucky Derby, Lone Star Sky would be pointed to the Lone Star Derby on May 10.

Amoss plans to work Lone Star Sky on Tuesday. He said Calvin Borel has first call on the horse, but Borel is also in the running to ride Ten Cents a Shine, a D. Wayne Lukas-trained horse whom Borel is scheduled to work on Sunday.

Ten Most Wanted may not mind mud

Trainer Wally Dollase believes Ten Most Wanted is similar to his Grade 1 winning father, Deputy Commander, in many ways. After watching Ten Most Wanted gallop nine furlongs over the muddy Churchill strip Friday morning, Dollase was happy to note one difference between father and son.

"His daddy hated the mud,'' said Dollase, who trained Deputy Commander to victory in the Grade 1 Travers over a wet-fast Saratoga track. "This guy, the rider said he loves it.''

Other than that, Dollase sees many similarities in Ten Most Wanted and Deputy Commander.

"He looks like him, he's aggressive like him, he's smart like him,'' Dollase said.

Smith does things his way

T.V. Smith, who will saddle Offlee Wild in next Saturday's Kentucky Derby, is one of the rookie trainers in this year's field. But thus far he is taking the whole experience in stride.

"I'm sleeping good and I wake up smiling every morning," Smith said Friday morning. "Obviously this is all very exciting, but I'm trying to keep the right perspective on things. After all, it's still just a horse race."

Of course it never hurts for any rookie to seek out a veteran for a few hints before the big game. So Smith went to the most experienced Kentucky Derby trainer of them all, D. Wayne Lukas, for some advice. Lukas will be participating in his 23rd Derby and sending out his 40th and 41st starters if both Scrimshaw and Ten Cents a Shine run.

"Wayne simply said, 'You will do all right,' " Smith said. "Then he added, 'Just don't let anybody talk you into doing something you don't want to do.' "

Smith has already proven he has his own training agenda after galloping Offlee Wild 2 1/2 miles on Thursday. Friday, he made an impromptu change in his training schedule, sending Offlee Wild out immediately after the track opened at 5:15 a.m., because of the heavy rain that left the strip a sea of slop.

"I just figured it would be best to get him right out when the track was fresh and there was no traffic," Smith explained.

Gambolati on the scene

Cam Gambolati will have eight horses stabled at Churchill for the spring meet, which runs through July 6. Gambolati, who won the 1985 Derby with Spend a Buck, said he is branching out from his longtime base at Calder because of his longstanding relationship with the University of Louisville's basketball coach, Rick Pitino, one of his main clients.

"Coach asked me to bring a few of his horses up here so he could watch them run," said Gambolati. "I thought it was a good idea."

Gambolati's best horse at Churchill is Cajun Beat, the Hallandale Beach winner, who will run next in the May 10 Matt Winn Stakes. But the colt that could attract the most publicity is an unstarted 2-year-old named It's Awesome Baby. The colt's owners are Pitino and nationally known basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale.

Gambolati said he will travel back and forth from Calder, where he also will maintain a string of horses, primarily 2-year-olds.

Guaranteed pick four pools

Churchill Downs will offer guaranteed pick four pools on both Friday and Saturday this week to coincide with the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Both pick four's will be made up of stakes races.

Friday's $250,000 guaranteed pick four will be held on races 7-10 and will consist of the Aegon Turf Sprint, the Louisville Breeders' Cup, the Crown Royal American Turf, and the Kentucky Oaks.

Saturday's $750,000 guaranteed pick four (races 7-10) will comprise the CITGO Distaff Turf Mile, the Humana Distaff, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, and the Kentucky Derby.

Both pick fours will be a $1 minimum wager.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch