03/28/2002 1:00AM

Classic Mike starting year in low gear


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Classic Mike will launch his 3-year-old campaign in Saturday's eighth race at Woodbine, a 6 1/2-furlong preliminary allowance worth $59,100.

The eight-horse field of 3-year-olds also includes Thats the Problem, an impressive recent winner at the Fair Grounds.

Classic Mike raised eyebrows when he graduated by 13 lengths in his first and only start against $50,000 maidens here Nov. 17. His seven-furlong clocking of 1:22.40 was good for a Beyer Speed Figure of 89.

Trainer Reade Baker said he didn't anticipate such a monster effort from Classic Mike that day.

"He'd shown some run in the mornings, and I thought he'd win," Baker recalled, "but he never gave the impression that he could run an 89 Beyer. I was tickled pink with the race."

Baker said Classic Mike hasn't been cranked up for Saturday's engagement, simply because his ultimate goal for the gelding is the prestigious Queen's Plate.

"He's doing good," said Baker. "It might be a little early in the season for him to go 6 1/2 furlongs against some horses who have been running, but I'd rather do that than go five-eighths with him.

"He was obviously an easy horse to get ready last year, and he's come along very quickly this spring. He hasn't been trained specifically for this race - we're training him long-term for the Plate. Hopefully, this is the first stepping-stone."

Laurie Gulas retains the mount on Classic Mike, a son of Smart Strike.

Thats the Problem, like Classic Mike, was nominated to Sunday's Achievement Stakes, but will go here instead. He won his debut last spring at Lone Star Park, and subsequently finished second in allowance company there before going on hiatus.

Thats the Problem resurfaced at the Fair Grounds March 8, winning a $30,000 claimer by 10 lengths, earning a whopping Beyer Figure of 93. Dave Dwyer trains him.

Rounding out the eighth-race lineup will be Warplane, Marplatense, Expect a Ship, Sundar, Alfaari's Solo, and Akbar.

Bravely, another prospect for the June 23 Queen's Plate, will face maiden special weight opposition going 6 1/2 furlongs in the seventh race on the card.

Trained by Catherine Day, Bravely has been idle since he finished a lapped-on second to Barbeau Ruckus in the restricted Kingarvie Stakes in early December.

for Woodbine entries.

Subscribers: to purchase past performances for Woodbine.

Non-subscribers: to purchase past performances for Woodbine.