07/03/2003 12:00AM

Dance Smartly is filly's next challenge


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Strait From Texas rarely seems to get the respect she deserves.

But as long as Strait From Texas gets the money, like she did at odds of 20-1 in the $296,700 Nassau here June 1, trainer Paul Buttigieg won't be complaining.

"I think she was a big overlay," said Buttigieg, who trains the 4-year-old for James Michael. "She's a very underestimated filly, and she can run."

Strait From Texas could be overlooked at the windows again in Saturday's $171,750 Dance Smartly Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race.

Although she hasn't run since the Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, Buttigieg figures the five weeks between starts will suit Strait From Texas just fine.

"It's good spacing," said Buttigieg. "She always runs well fresh.

"She's not a very big filly, and she likes to be sharp when she runs."

First Quarter needs to rebound

First Quarter, eighth in the Nassau, will be looking to rebound in the Dance Smartly for Jim Day, who trained Dance Smartly.

Day has reason to believe that First Quarter, a 4-year-old, could be ready for a better effort after circumstances conspired against her in her first two starts of the year.

"She grabbed her heel pretty bad, three jumps out of the gate, in her previous race," said Day. First Quarter finished third in that race here May 16. That race was her first time going six furlongs on the main track.

"She finished okay, but if you'd seen her heel you would have thought she may have been out for the summer," Day said. "She had an awful easy week after that and didn't have much time to get going for the Nassau. She stands to improve now, fitness-wise."

Day also pointed out that First Quarter was running on Lasix for the first time in the Nassau, and that some people think first-Lasix makes a horse dull.

First Quarter will be making her first start as the sole property of the Come by Chance Stable of Day's mother, Edna Arrow. Robert Schaedle previously had been a co-owner.

Slow pace means 'ugly' race for Too Late Now

Day also has had time to reflect on the performance of Too Late Now, who finished third in Tuesday's Bison City at Fort Erie as the 123-pound highweight and 4-5 choice.

"It was ugly," said Day.

Day had conferred with jockey Robert Landry and decided that Too Late Now should be taken off the pace Tuesday.

Too Late Now had come into the 1 1/16-mile Bison City with four wins in as many outings, including the 1 1/16-mile Selene and 1 1/8-mile Labatt Woodbine Oaks. She began her career here April 5. She led throughout the Oaks and barely held on, and she won the Selene after stalking the pace.

"We didn't want to do another Oaks act," said Day, "particularly in a strange town where she could be looking around at things.

"I didn't think - and Robert didn't think - her best chance would be on the lead. Especially with the weight - she'd be a sitting duck for the late closers.

"We were trying to get her back in her Selene mode, where she rated kindly."

Too Late Now did not take kindly to Day's Bison City blueprint, however.

"The pace was extremely slow," said Day. "Robert got her back from the gate okay, but she didn't want any part of staying behind those horses."

The end result was that Too Late Now fought a private battle with her jockey and came up flat in the stretch run.

"There's a bright side," said Day, "and you've always got to look at the positive. She came out of the race in very good order, and she'll get a well-deserved break now."

Day plans to bring back Too Late Now for a stakes campaign here this fall.

"I haven't tried her on grass," said the trainer. "I think she'll be in very fine fettle on that surface."

Mulligan the Great gets loose in Overskate

Mulligan the Great outsprinted the other speed and kept on going to post a half-length victory over 10-1 shot Sophia's Prince in the $137,000 Overskate Stakes here Wednesday night.

James McKnight rode Mulligan the Great, who maintained a 2 1/2-length advantage while recording fractions of 22.41 and 44.66 seconds in the seven-furlong dash for Ontario-sired runners. Sophia's Prince made a run at the head of the stretch, but Mulligan the Great held on and completed the distance in a rapid 1:22.02.

McKnight said he was surprised to find himself loose on the lead.

"I thought [Krz Ruckus] would show more speed than he did," said McKnight. "My horse left there running and made the lead easily. I just had to nurse him along."

Winning trainer Cliff Hopmans was thrilled with Mulligan the Great's effort.

"I think this was probably his most impressive performance," said Hopmans, who won two races on the card.

Mulligan the Great ($9.70) earned $82,200 in winning his third stakes for owner Charles Simmons.

Mister Coop finished five lengths behind the winner in third. Favored Krz Ruckus was fourth, followed by Norfolk Knight, Forever Grand, Geraint, Steady Ruckus, Scotman, and Vobiscum.

Geraint and Vobiscum, both owned and trained by Catherine Day Phillips, ran as an entry due to an oversight by the racing office. An Ontario Racing Commission rule implemented this year eliminated stable couplings in all stakes worth $100,000 or more.

* Chantal Sutherland will be back in action here Saturday after serving a three-day suspension.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink