04/15/2004 11:00PM

Distance suits Winter Garden

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Bob Tiller-trained duo of Winter Garden and Brass in Pocket, both 2003 Sovereign Award finalists, are among an accomplished seven-horse field of fillies and mares in Sunday's $136,000 Whimsical Stakes at Woodbine.

Winter Garden, who lost champion 3-year-old filly honors last year by just one point to Too Late Now, had a sensational 2003 campaign, winning six of nine starts for earnings of $470,826. A daughter of Roy, Winter Garden defeated older opponents on four occasions last year and is unbeaten in three starts under jockey David Clark, who was also named aboard Brass in Pocket.

Brass in Pocket was a distant second to One for Rose in the Sovereign voting for champion older female. She won five of seven starts last year, which included a come-from-behind triumph in the Whimsical.

Tiller gave both runners the winter off.

"I had both of them jogging on the farm around the middle of January," Tiller said. "They were only turned out about six or seven weeks. I think the horses who've been training up here aren't going to be as fit as those who were winter-raced. The winter-raced horses will have a bit of an edge for a while.

"We'll run in the Whimsical and go on to the [May 16] Hendrie Handicap. There's really nowhere else to run them until the Hendrie. This race will do them good."

Tiller believes the six-furlong distance of the Whimsical will give the edge to Winter Garden, who is unbeaten in four attempts at the distance.

"I think six furlongs is a little short for Brass in Pocket," Tiller said. "Winter Garden has a much better shot going six. Both of them are packing the grandstand - 123 pounds."

Completing the Whimsical lineup are Leading Role, Holy Bubbette, Roman Romance, Mille Feville, and Greattobeloved.

Without winning a stakes, Leading Role has accumulated $446,336 in earnings for trainer Gail Casselman. Casselman also sent out Leading Role in the 2003 Whimsical, where she finished fourth. Leading Role was in training at Payson Park in Florida, but she hasn't run since her fourth-place finish behind Winter Garden in the Oct. 25 Ontario Fashion Handicap.

"She had a great winter," Casselman said. "This winter [in Florida] was fairly cool, and it was nice for the horses - they could be turned out and the flies wouldn't bother them. She had a break until the middle of January. She's been training very well."

Holy Bubbette has shipped up from Florida off a front-running tally in an $80,000 optional claimer at Gulfstream.