09/09/2003 12:00AM

Crown is past, but more tests await Wando

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Wando already has overcome two major obstacles this year en route to his sweep of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Now, Wando will face his highest hurdle to date, as he'll be cutting back from 1 1/2 miles to a mile on the turf course and facing some talented open-company older runners in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Atto Mile.

"He's done everything he's been asked to do," said Mike Keogh, who trains Wando for owner-breeder Gustav Schickedanz. "I don't think I'd want to swap [chances] with anyone."

Wando's first task was to get the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Queen's Plate, a trip that many feared might be beyond him.

Included among the doubters were Keogh and Todd Kabel, who had been the regular rider of both Wando and his stablemate Mobil. Kabel opted to ride Mobil in the Plate, and as a result Patrick Husbands picked up the mount on Wando in the Canadian Triple Crown.

Once Wando had dispatched his Canadian-bred opponents by nine lengths in the Plate, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, there was little suspense leading up to Fort Erie's 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales, and the colt performed accordingly in a four-length romp.

But the questions resurfaced prior to the Breeders' Stakes, where Wando would not only be stretching out to 1 1/2 miles but would be switching to the turf.

Again Wando rose to the occasion, although this time he had to work hard to secure a 1 1/2-length win over Shoal Water, who came back to capture the Grade 3 Saranac Handicap at Saratoga.

Shortly afterward, Keogh announced his intention to run Wando here in the Atto Mile as a possible prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile.

After Wando's performance in the Queen's Plate, in which he had earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 111, the colt quite naturally had been seen as a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Classic at the same 1 1/4-mile distance.

Keogh, however, was concerned about the potential quality of the Classic competition, and he has certainly not changed that tune after the subsequent emergence of Candy Ride in the West and the spectacular success of Mineshaft in the East.

"The Classic is shaping up unbelievably tough," Keogh said. "It looks like it's loaded for bear."

And while Keogh doesn't expect the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Mile to be a walk in the park, it may suit Wando more than the Classic. The Atto Mile is perfectly positioned as a prep for the BC Mile and is a difficult enough test to determine Wando's status for the race.

"We might as well do it on our home grounds, and it gives me a line on where he belongs," Keogh said.

The cutback from 1 1/2 miles to one mile does not seem to be of great concern to Keogh, who has adjusted the horse's training accordingly.

"Going into the Breeders', I did stronger miles with him in his galloping, finishing up with a strong spurt at the end," said Keogh. "Coming into this race I shortened his work up; he's not galloping as strong as before. I've been sharpening him up."

The work tab bears out Keogh's contention, as Wando has breezed three times since the Aug. 9 Breeders', with his most recent move a quick five furlongs on the turf course here last Sunday.

"With certain horses, cutting back to a mile could be a problem," Keogh said, "but I don't think it will be with him. He's just got so much natural speed of his own."

Keogh, in fact, had stated earlier this year that he believed Wando could turn out to be at his most effective as a one-turn miler in the mold of his sire, Langfuhr, who used his tactical speed to capture Grade 1 events such as the seven-furlong Vosburgh and Forego, and the Met Mile.

Husbands, who has never ridden Wando in a race shorter than 1 3/16 miles, is confident about the colt's ability to handle the transition.

"To be totally honest, I don't feel it really matters where you run this horse, dirt or turf, from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter," Husbands said. "He's just a horse with talent. He's gifted."

Husbands also believes Wando actually is a better horse on turf than dirt.

"It's the way he moves," Husbands said. "To me, he's got a better action, a better way of going on the turf."

Trainer Malcolm Pierce certainly has seen enough of Wando this season, as Strizzi finished fourth in the Breeders', Peef ran fourth in the Prince of Wales, and Rock Again ended up third in the Queen's Plate. All are trained by Pierce.

And although Pierce is a neutral observer when it comes to the Atto Mile, he is intrigued by Wando's quest.

"It should be quite interesting," Pierce said. "I think that it's a big step up, against older horses, and a mile's their specialty. He's going to have to win at their game.

"But obviously Wando's a very good horse, and he's already proven me wrong. I said he wouldn't win the Breeders' Stakes."