03/20/2003 1:00AM

Champ returns in opener

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Wake at Noon, Canada's reigning horse of the year, returns in the $108,000 Briartic Handicap on Saturday, the opening day of the Woodbine meeting.

The 167-day meet, which will have an average overnight purse distribution of $425,840, is scheduled to conclude Nov. 30. The first highlight of the meeting will be the $1 million Queen's Plate on June 22.

Racing will be conducted on a Friday through Sunday schedule during late March and April. Wednesdays will be added in May, and Thursdays will be added in June.

Wake at Noon, a 6-year-old trained by Abraham Katryan, won 6 of 11 starts last year, banking $463,011. He was voted the Sovereign Award as champion sprinter and older runner in 2002, to go along with his horse of the year crown

Wake at Noon, who spent part of the winter at owner Bruno Schickedanz's Florida farm, breezed a half-mile in a sizzling 45.80 seconds over the main track on Monday, much to Katryan's satisfaction.

Katryan, noting that the horse galloped out five-eighths of a mile in 58.40 seconds, said: "I think he's in pretty good shape. He's fit, and he's sound."

Even though Wake at Noon captured the five-furlong Briartic in 2002, Katryan said he is not crazy about running the horse in such a short race.

"I really don't think five-eighths is his game," Katryan said. "As he's gotten older, I think he wants to go longer - three-quarters or seven-eighths. He's not speed-crazy like he used to be."

Emile Ramsammy will ride Wake at Noon, the 124-pound highweight, who has a ton of speed to chase in the eight-horse Briartic field.

Also entered were Davids Expectations, Krz Ruckus, Olympian, Rare Friends, Colebrook Ruckus, Pop Rocks, and Crucible.

Olympian, trained by John Cardella, set Woodbine's five-furlong track record (56.07 seconds) on opening day of the 2001 racing season. A 6-year-old with a history of foot problems, Olympian had a subpar 2002 season, winning just 1 of 7 starts.

"He's a tough little guy going five-eighths of a mile," Cardella said confidently. "There's nothing wrong with his legs - they're fantastic. He's just had bad feet. He's had pus pockets and quarter cracks. Sometimes, when he runs, we don't even know if he has one or the other until the next day or two, when it shows up."

Cardella said Olympian cut himself when he stumbled leaving the gate during a recent workout. "He was done up in a poultice for a few days after the work," Cardella said. "He's doing fine."