10/31/2002 12:00AM

Catch the Ring's last shot at a million

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sam Son Farm's Catch the Ring has struggled this season, going winless in six starts.

But her trainer, Mark Frostad, is hoping she will find her way back to the winner's circle here in Saturday's Grade 3, $197,750 Maple Leaf Stakes, the same 1 1/4-mile race that she won to end her 2001 campaign.

In a race that will most likely be the last of her career, a victory by Catch the Ring in the Maple Leaf would boost her career earnings above $1 million.

"She's definitely going to be bred next year," said Frostad, who sent out Catch the Ring to win the Canadian Oaks, Bison City, and Fury en route to her title of Canada's champion 3-year-old filly in 2000.

The fact that Catch the Ring's subsequent campaigns have been less productive can be attributed in good part to the dearth of local opportunities for a stakes-class mare who prefers running a distance of ground on the main track.

"There's not a whole lot for older fillies," said Frostad, who had sent out Catch the Ring to win 2 of 7 starts last year and finish third in the filly-mare Sovereign Award balloting behind stablemate Mountain Angel and the sprinter Mysterious Affair.

"She's not Ontario-sired, and because she's Canadian-bred means nothing at this point, " he said.

Frostad also said that Catch the Ring's late-running style has been a disadvantage this year in races such as the 1 1/16-mile Belle Mahone and a 1 1/8-mile Maple Leaf prep, in which she rallied off slow paces to finish second.

"A mile and a quarter will suit her more," said Frostad, who believes the added distance will override any unfavorable pace scenario.

Catch the Ring will have regular rider Robert Landry in the irons at 117 pounds, and will receive two pounds from topweight and probable favorite Small Promises.

A 4-year-old owned by Kinghaven Farm and trainer Roger Attfield, Small Promises has been on a tear of late, and will be seeking her fourth straight win when she breaks from the outside in the 11-horse Maple Leaf field under regular rider Jim McAleney.

Small Promises began the streak in her first start around two turns, here in the 1 1/16-mile Algoma. She next won at the same distance in Fort Erie's H.A. Hindmarsh, and then won the Maple Leaf prep by 1 3/4 lengths, making her a leading candidate for the filly-mare Sovereign Award.

Lady Shari and Silver Nithi subplots

Among Maple Leaf subplots are what happens to Lady Shari and Silver Nithi, who will be looking to enhance their Sovereign Award credentials in a wide-open 3-year-old filly division.

Lady Shari, owned by trainer Dave Cotey in partnership with Derek Ball and Hugh Galbraith, defeated males in the Grade 3 Canadian Derby over 1 3/8 miles at Northlands and finished third last time out in the 1 1/16-mile La Lorgnette, leaving Silver Nithi 2 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

"She's absolutely wonderful - she's like she was when she went into her last race," said Cotey. "She didn't have an excuse there, but this time she has a little further to work with."

Silver Nithi, owned by Dick and Jo Ellen Shaw and trained by David Bell, won the Bison City and finished second in both the Labatt Woodbine Oaks and Wonder Where Stakes.

Silver Nithi has experience at the Maple Leaf distance, although that came on the turf here in the Wonder Where. She also was stakes-placed when racing on turf last time out, finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Carotene.

"She's doing very well; she's very sharp," said Bell. "If I can win this race, and then beat Mulrainy with my other filly, it will help my case."

Mulrainy, a double stakes winner and a leading candidate for divisional honors, will be favored here in Sunday's Jammed Lovely, a seven-furlong race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Bell's potential spoiler in the Jammed Lovely is Tacky Affair, who was making her first start in almost eight weeks when she ran second to the 6-year-old Press Exclusive under allowance terms at 6 1/2 furlongs here Oct. 3.

"She missed quite a bit of time," said Bell, noting that Tacky Affair had been hit hard by a virus that made the rounds here this summer. "But when she came back in her last start, she ran her eyeballs out and only just got beat by a nice mare.

"She's been on the fringes in stakes, but she had excuses every time. The way she's going right now, she's really good."

Santerra rides speed bias to South Ocean win

Santerra ($5.30) rode a speed bias to an easy 3 1/2-length win in the $132,625 South Ocean Stakes here Wednesday night.

Todd Kabel sent Santerra to the lead from the break in the 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies. She set uncontested fractions of 23.13 and 47.62 seconds before opening up a four-length lead at the top of the stretch, and then coasted home on top in a time of 1:47.23.

"She ran a strong race," said Kabel. "Speed's been holding all night, and I wanted to get her up into contention. She was really relaxed. Her ears were flopping back and forth, and I knew she was just waiting for a challenge. She galloped out strong and could have gone a lot farther."

Deputy Cures Blues, the lukewarm 6-5 favorite, was three lengths clear of Fancy Drinks in second in the eight-horse field.

Santerra, who won her maiden in the Sept. 2 Muskoka Stakes, earned $79,575 for owner-breeder Ted Burnett.

Trainer Mike Mattine said Santerra might start next in the Nov. 24 Ontario Lassie Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile test for Canadian-breds.

Mountain Angel heads to breeding shed

Mountain Angel, winner of last year's Ontario Matron and second in the Maple Leaf, was retired this summer and is headed to the breeding shed.

A 4-year-old by Mt. Livermore out of All An Angel, Mountain Angel also finished second here in the Oaks and in this year's Dance Smartly while compiling an overall record of seven wins, three seconds, two thirds, and earnings of $566,698 from 16 starts.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink