08/05/2008 12:00AM

Clues to finding Breeders' winner


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Ginger Brew, the runner-up in this year's Queen's Plate, is equally adept on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces. She captured the Woodbine Oaks on Polytrack, the Calder Oaks on the grass, and was a solid second behind the talented Shes All Eltish in an allowance on the dirt at Gulfstream Park.

Ginger Brew's versatility is rare. There aren't many runners who excel on three different surfaces, and most horses do their optimum running on just one track.

This year's Canadian Triple Crown has provided an excellent illustration of why dirt, turf, and Polytrack should be treated as separate entities.

Not Bourbon, the Queen's Plate winner, had made each of his 10 starts on Polytrack heading into the second leg of the series, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. Sent off as the even-money favorite, he stalked the pace before fading in the stretch in his first dirt start.

The New York-based Harlem Rocker won the Wales convincingly, while extending his unbeaten streak on dirt tracks to four races.

After taking the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in April, Harlem Rocker was shipped here for the June 1 Plate Trial Stakes. He never fired then in his Polytrack debut, and wound up fourth as the heavy favorite.

After the Wales, jockey Eibar Coa reaffirmed Harlem Rocker's dissatisfaction with Woodbine's Polytrack.

"I just believe the last time he didn't care for the Polytrack," Coa said. "That's the only thing I can say about that. But he proved today that he was back."

For varying reasons, Not Bourbon, Harlem Rocker, and Ginger Brew will all be passing the final leg of the Triple Crown series here Sunday, the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes. The 1 1/2-mile grass marathon is wide open, and horses possessing positive turf experience should be preferred over those who have never competed on the turf.

Marlang is one of two turf stakes winners in the prospective Breeders' field. He found the mark in the one-mile Charlie Barley Stakes on June 21, and was recently third in the nine-furlong Toronto Cup Stakes.

The Toronto Cup has been an important Breeders' prep over the years. Horses exiting a strong showing in the open race won the Breeders' in 1997 (John the Magician) and 2002 (Portcullis). Three of the last four second-place finishers in the Breeders' came out of the Toronto Cup - French Beret, Area Limits, and Burst of Fire.

The Wales has been the most successful Breeders' tune-up. The 1 3/16-mile route has produced four Breeders' winners in the past five years: Marchfield (2007), Royal Challenger (2006), A Bit o'Gold (2004), and Wando (2003). The 12 Wales runners that competed in the Breeders' from 2003-07 posted a record of 4-1-1.

This year's Wales has yielded three Breeders' prospects - East End Tap, Pronger, and Deputiformer.

East End Tap ran the race of his life to be second in the Wales. He has never tried the grass, for which he has minimal breeding.

Pronger, unplaced in two turf outings, should be on or near the front end off a surprising third-place finish in the Wales. The last horse to lead throughout the Breeders' was Peteski in 1993.

Deputiformer was fourth in the Plate and fifth in the Wales. His lone win came when he graduated on the grass in the 1 1/16-mile Cup and Saucer Stakes in October, so the surface won't be a problem for him, but the extended distance might be.

Solitaire, a maiden based at Saratoga with trainer James Bond, should be among the Breeders' favorites. He rallied strongly for third when he debuted in a nine-furlong maiden special on the Gulfstream grass course in April. He subsequently finished second in the Plate Trial, and was a wide-closing third in the Plate, during which he traveled 44 feet farther than Not Bourbon, according to Trakus.

No maiden has won the Breeders' during the modern history of the race, and Area Limits is the only maiden to hit the board from eight starters since 2005.

Sligovitz would appear to possess sufficient stamina for the task at hand. He defeated older opposition in a 1 1/4-mile allowance that was taken off the grass July 13.

Sligovitz was a fast-finishing fourth the only time he tried the grass in a one-mile maiden special in his debut at 2. His trainer, Brian Lynch, won the 2006 Breeders' with another Stronach Stable runner, Royal Challenger. He believes that Sligovitz is better on the grass than he is on the Poly, which is reason enough to give him a big shot on Sunday.

Turf specialist Cryptonite Kid could hit the board at a square price in the third start of his form cycle.