09/04/2008 11:00PM

Cloudy's Knight returns to the scene

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Cloudy's Knight was the toast of the town last fall after recording his first Grade 1 victory at the advanced age of 7 here at Woodbine in the Canadian International.

But the current version of Cloudy's Knight, who will run in Sunday's Grade 1, $750,000 Northern Dancer, seems to be a far cry from the horse whose career campaign also included a win here in the Grade 2 Sky Classic and a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Nijinsky en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding turf horse.

"He hasn't picked up the bit this year," said Cloudy's Knight's trainer, Frank Kirby, from his Arlington Park base.

Cloudy's Knight concluded his 2007 season in the Canadian International and returned from a seven-month absence to finish seventh in the 1 1/16-mile Opening Verse at Churchill Downs on May 31.

"His first race was too short, and he didn't run much," said Kirby.

Five weeks later, Cloudy's Knight resurfaced in Arlington's Grade 3 Stars and Stripes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race in which he had been beaten a nose as the runner-up last year. This time around, Cloudy's Knight finished fourth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths after closing from well back off a slow pace.

"He lost a bit of ground," said Kirby. "He didn't run a bad race."

Most recently, Cloudy's Knight tried the Grade 1 Arlington Million and finished last of seven after trailing throughout the 1 1/4-mile turf race.

"For some reason, he dropped back about 40 lengths there," said Kirby. "He did finish okay."

Cloudy's Knight, who had Ramsey Zimmerman in the irons for his award-winning run last year, will have a new pilot on Sunday in James Graham.

All that being said, Cloudy's Knight will need a major reversal of form to make his presence felt in the Northern Dancer.

"He's always liked that course up there," said Kirby. "I hope that's his secret."

Kirby also has a contestant for Sunday's Canadian in Ciao, who ended just 3 3/4 lengths back as the eighth-place finisher in Arlington's Grade 1 Beverly D. on Aug. 9.

The Canadian, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares, offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $300,000.

Strike a Deal tries to make amends

Trainer Alan Goldberg, who is based in New Jersey, also has entrants for both the Northern Dancer and the Canadian, in Strike a Deal and Social Queen.

Strike a Deal finished second as the odds-on choice when making his first appearance here in the Grade 2 Nijinsky over 1 1/4 miles of turf on Aug. 4.

"I was a little disappointed," said Goldberg, who had watched Strike a Deal set a pressured but slow pace and fail to match the closing kick of fellow Northern Dancer entrant Seaside Retreat through the drive. "In the United Nations, he switched off pretty nicely but in this race, he didn't. I don't know what it was; maybe it was shipping up here."

Strike a Deal came from off the pace to finish second in the Grade 1 United Nations over 1 3/8 miles of yielding going at Monmouth on July 5. He has now finished second in six stakes while winning 2 of 13 career starts.

"We keep waiting to win the big one," said Goldberg. "Hopefully, this will be the one."

Rajiv Maragh will ride Strike a Deal for the first time here and also takes over aboard Social Queen, who comes into the Canadian off a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Matchmaker over 1 1/8 miles of firm turf at Monmouth.

"She had a tough trip last time," said Goldberg. "The jockey took her out at the five-eighths pole, and she made her run and flattened out.

"She's just one of those horses where you have to sit and wait, and then wait a little more. I'd just throw that race out."

Social Queen recorded her best win to date in her start prior to the Matchmaker, capturing the Grade 3 Eatontown over 1 1/16 miles of turf at Monmouth.

Attfield takes a shot with Palladio

The late addition of Palladio to the Woodbine Mile picture makes Roger Attfield the second trainer with horses in each of the stakes here Sunday.

But, as is the case with Mark Frostad, Attfield's candidates are all longshots.

Palladio, a 6-year-old horse owned by Haras Santa Maria de Araras, is coming off a third-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Seagram Cup on the main track here July 27.

"He's training so well, and I can't find anywhere else to run him here," said Attfield. "Hopefully I'm right, that he's sitting on a big race."

While Palladio is 1 for 5 on the turf, Attfield said he believes the horse is better than he has shown thus far on the surface.

"I think a mile and a sixteenth is probably his best distance, but I'd rather run him a mile than a mile and a half," said Attfield, who admits Palladio will have his work cut out while facing Kip Deville and Ventura.

"The ship-ins are the main horses but the others are all together, as far as I'm concerned. If I could finish in the first three there I'd be delighted."

Spice Route, a 4-year-old gelding, made his first start for Attfield here Aug. 21 and was successful in a second-level optional $62,500 claiming race over 1 1/2 miles of turf.

"This is a big step up, no question," said Attfield. "But I think he's doing very well, and we're going to give it a shot."

Callwood Dancer recorded her third win in four starts this season when scoring by a neck in the 1 1/8-mile Canadian prep. Her successes also include the Grade 3 Nassau over 1 1/16 miles of grass here this past spring.

"She's just a good filly," said Attfield. "She's been running very well all year, and I think she's going to run very well again."

* Jennifer Morrison will host a one-hour handicapping seminar beginning at 11 a.m. here Sunday on the second floor of the grandstand. The focus will be on the Woodbine Mile, the Northern Dancer, and handicapping turf racing in general.

* The Toronto Thoroughbred Racing Club will hold its monthly meeting here Wednesday beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the third-floor Champions area.