05/31/2006 11:00PM

Cecil invades again for weekend stakes


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Ben Cecil has been an infrequent visitor to Woodbine over the years, with just three starters here and none since 1999 until this season.

But now Woodbine is on the verge of playing an important role in the California-based Cecil's operation, and on Saturday he will send out his second stakes starter of the meeting when Hallowed Dream goes in the $300,000 Nassau.

On Sunday, Cecil will be putting the tack on Town Thief in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special. Town Thief is a Canadian-bred 3-year-old who finished a close third in the seven-furlong Queenston on May 7.

"I just think the prize money is very attractive up there," said Cecil, from his Hollywood Park barn on Thursday morning. "I'm not saying the races seem to be a little easier, but I think the competition certainly isn't quite as tough. I think California's probably one of the two toughest places to race in America.

"And, as far as the turf course up there is concerned, it's a European-style turf course, and I have quite a lot of European horses," Cecil added. "I've got several that I'm planning to ship up this summer."

Further success could lead Cecil to run here regularly.

"This year's kind of an experiment," he said. "If it all works well, I'd hope to have some up there full-time next year during the summer."

Hallowed Dream, an Irish-bred 4-year-old, raced in England at 2 and 3 and finished second in the Group 1 Italian Oaks before coming to Cecil as a maiden early last summer.

After finishing a troubled last of 12 in Hollywood Park's American Oaks on July 3, Hallowed Dream was off for three months. She finally graduated in her third try over Santa Anita's turf course on Dec. 28.

"It took me a while," said Cecil. "Conformation-wise, I've always been a bit scared of working her on the dirt and, as a maiden, you can't work on the grass down here.

"I probably went a little easy on her, and that's why it took her three starts to get her maiden broke. Since then, we've been able to work her on the grass, and I think she's improving with every race."

Hallowed Dream comes into the Grade 2 Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, seeking her fifth win in a row.

After following up her maiden win with scores in first- and second-level allowances at Santa Anita, Hallowed Dream went to Golden Gate and became a stakes winner in the Grade 3 Yerba Buena at 1 1/8 miles on the grass.

Cecil also attributes her continuing success to a change of style, which came about circumstantially in Hallowed Dream's first allowance win.

"She was a filly that certainly in Europe, and here to begin with, we thought wanted to be on the lead," said Cecil. "One day at Santa Anita she actually stumbled leaving the gate, and was way back last.

"It was a whole new scenario for her, and I thought that was her best race to that point. To me, she was getting just a little kind of lazy on the front end.

"Certainly last time, when we took her back, she showed she thrives on a bit of competition in front of her and getting by them," he said. "So, that will be our plan again probably on Saturday."

Cecil added that Hallowed Dream could remain at Woodbine.

"We'll see how she handles Woodbine, and possibly run her there again," said Cecil. "We don't really have a plan; we'll just see how the race goes, and go from there.

Thinking big about Town Thief

Town Thief, although still a maiden after five starts, could earn himself a berth in the $1 million Queen's Plate with a victory here Sunday.

Following his solid effort under rider Emma-Jayne Wilson in the Queenston, Town Thief has been based at Fort Erie with trainer Edward Freeman and has been working well.

"The mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden was our plan, just to see if he would get the distance," Cecil said. "I have slight reservations about how far he'll go. Emma-Jayne seems to think, from riding him last time, that he will get beyond the mile."

The Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, will be run at Woodbine on June 25.

Sunday's Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race, attracted a field of eight, including stakes winners Atlas Shrugs, Edenwold, Pyramid Park, and Thinking Out Loud.

Baker pair work en route to Ballade

Bosskiri and River Nore, both trained by Reade Baker, worked five furlongs on a muddy main track here Thursday and are slated to run in Wednesday's $125,000 Ballade, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares.

Bosskiri, a 4-year-old who won an Ontario-sired stakes in each of her first two campaigns, was timed in 1:01.60 while working in company with Ever So Free, a stakes-placed 4-year-old gelding who was clocked in 1:01.80.

River Nore, working on her own, went in 1:01.40.

Bosskiri finished third when opening her current campaign in the five-furlong allowance prep for the Whimsical but finished ninth in the six-furlong Whimsical itself.

"I wasn't satisfied, so I gave her some time," said Baker. "We've got her back in good shape now."

River Nore, winner of the seven-furlong Fury against fellow Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies last year, has started just once this season, finishing far back in a second-level allowance at seven furlongs at Keeneland.