06/19/2003 11:00PM

'Debate' on favorite ground

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The well-traveled Nuclear Debate will be back on one of his favorite turf courses Sunday at Woodbine when he defends his title in the Grade 2, $286,500 Nearctic Handicap.

The 8-year-old Nuclear Debate has competed in England, France, Italy, Dubai, Hong Kong, the United States, and Canada. He has been based in Southern California the last few years with trainer Darrell Vienna, who has run him throughout North America.

Nuclear Debate was checked on the turn before closing stoutly to capture the 2002 Nearctic. He also encountered traffic problems before rallying for third here in last year's Grade 1 Atto Mile.

Nuclear Debate is winless in six starts since the Nearctic, but was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths when fifth last time out in the Grade 3 Aegon Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Assistant trainer Scott Chaney was pleased with Nuclear Debate's most recent effort.

"I think he was the best horse in the race at Churchill," Chaney said. "He made up fourteen and one-half lengths running five-eighths after going 10 wide, which isn't easy to do. He ran really well, but just had too much to do down the lane."

Chaney said Nuclear Debate must be kept in behind horses in the early stages of a race, in order to preserve his closing kick.

"We definitely have to get him covered up," Chaney said, "and he seems to do better after running up other horses' heels.

"Both races here last year went great," Chaney jokingly added. "He had a ton of traffic troubles. The stretch is so long and so wide, that you have the chance to [recover] from any trouble you run into. I think that's the main reason why he's done so well here."

Completing the lineup for the six-furlong Nearctic are Soaring Free, Gone Fishin, Wild Strike, Zone Judge, Relaunch Star, Chris's Bad Boy, Orchestrated, Krieger, Montezuma's Gold, and Solitary Dancer.

Soaring Free, an ordinary allowance runner in 2002, has turned into a monster this year, winning both of his outings with ease. He captured the allowance prep for the Nearctic while earning a whopping 111 Beyer Speed Figure in a race taken off the grass and run over a sloppy main track.

Frostad said the gelding of Soaring Free over the winter was the key to the 4-year-old's marked improvement this season.