08/04/2004 11:00PM

Cavans Lane takes big step

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Cavans Lane will be an outsider in Sunday's $500,000 Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, the 1 1/2-mile turf race that is the final leg of Canada's Triple Crown.

But, Cavans Lane will be able to make one claim that none of his fellow contestants can match. He is the only horse to have scored at the distance, having won his maiden at about 1 1/2 miles on the turf in his last start here, on July 24.

"The company's a bit tough," said David Bell, who trains Cavans Lane for Eugene and Laura Melnyk and Iris Bristow. "But he has the pedigree, and his previous race set him up to improve again.

"He still has to improve to be competitive," Bell said. "But a mile and a half is definitely a different race. A lot of horses don't want to go a mile and a half, no matter how good they are."

By Tale of the Cat out of the Caveat mare L'Insatiable, Cavans Lane is a half-brother to Lodge Hill, who won the 2000 Breeders' for the same owners and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Lodge Hill also came into the Breeders' after winning his maiden in his last start, at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Belmont.

But while Lodge Hill had run twice at 2, Cavans Lane began his career this May 7, when he finished second over 1 1/16 miles of turf at Calder for trainer Bill White.

"Apparently he hadn't trained very aggressively," Bell said. "But when he ran so well, they decided they might as well bring him up here, seeing as he was Canadian-bred."

Relocating here in mid-May, Cavans Lane did not make a particularly good first impression.

"It took him a while to kind of put things together," Bell said. "He trained like he was very green - he'd work okay, then not so well. We tried him on dirt, but he just didn't like it."

Cavans Lane finished last of 10 in that local debut, which came at 1 1/16 miles on the main track on May 29. But the colt did not fare much better when trying the local turf course for the first time on June 27, finishing seventh.

"He was completely lost. He was all over the place," Bell said. "Sometimes the big course will do that to them. That's why we took the blinkers off him for his second time over the course, and he put things together."

Cavans Lane had raced with blinkers in his first two starts for Bell.

"I almost think blinkers made him worse," Bell said. "That happens the odd time. They're supposed to make them concentrate, but they may look around more, because they can't see anything."

Forever Grand claimed for $32,000

What a difference a year makes.

At this time last summer, Forever Grand was gearing up for a run at the Shepperton, in which he would begin a three-stakes win streak.

That 4-year-old campaign, which included four stakes scores in all and earnings of $385,120, earned Forever Grand nominations as a Sovereign Award finalist in the older male and sprinter categories.

Forever Grand finished second in both votes, losing the older horse title by a single point.

This season did not start out as auspiciously for Forever Grand, who finished fifth in the opening-day Jacques Cartier. The gelding next ran for a $62,500 claiming price, winning that race and then repeating for an $80,000 tag.

But, after Forever Grand finished second as the 1-20 choice following an awkward beginning in Fort Erie's Harry J. Addison Jr. Stakes on Aug. 4, the bloom evidently was completely off the rose.

On Wednesday night, Forever Grand, purchased for $50,000 at the open sale here and a winner of 12 of 26 starts and $874,581 for trainer Bob Tiller, who also owns the gelding in partnership with Frank DiGiulio, was entered for $32,000.

Forever Grand didn't win the race, finishing second as the even-money choice.

Despite the daunting nature of the drop, Forever Grand attracted four claims, and the winner of the shake was trainer Noel Randall, who took Forever Grand on behalf of owner Winston Penny.

"It's early yet, but he seems fine," Randall said at the barn Thursday morning. "He scoped clean and cooled out sound."

Randall, 32, who was an assistant trainer with Mike Wright, Mike Wright Jr., and Dave Dwyer before going out on his own midway through last season, acknowledged the element of risk in claiming a horse like Forever Grand at a sharply reduced price.

"I figured if he was in rough shape, I'd give him the rest of the year off," Randall said. "For $32,000, I don't see how you can get killed."

Forever Grand had developed the reputation of being a rather unruly sort, which Randall verified.

"He's a handful," Randall said. "And he's got bad ankles and bad feet, but they're manageable."

Forever Grand is the most expensive claim made by Randall, who has seven horses here, and is Randall's third recent acquisition for Penny.

Rhodesian Storm, a 6-year-old gelding, was claimed for $12,500 from his last start, while Sparkman, a 3-year-old gelding, was claimed for $20,000 from his debut and won his maiden for $32,000 before being lost for $25,000 in his next start.