10/18/2002 12:00AM

Early pace key in Premier's


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The distance of the $100,000 Premier's on Sunday is 1 3/8 miles, but the first half-mile could be the most important part of the race. There isn't one committed front-runner in the field, and the horse who controls the early tempo should have a big advantage.

Shacane, who has started only six times, looks like the most likely candidate to set the pace, but it's hard to say if he has the maturity to beat a seasoned horse like the probable favorite, Futural.

Shacane's lack of racing experience might have cost him in the British Columbia Derby, where he finished fourth. Breaking from post 12, he was asked for a little speed out of the gate to try and secure a good position going into the first turn, but he didn't settle and ended up chasing a quick pace while going three wide.

"With a small field he should get a better trip than he did in the derby," said his trainer, Toni Jacobson Cloutier. "And I think that he can relax if he makes the lead. He's always waiting for the other horses when he gets to the front, so hopefully he can slow it down if he happens to be the setting the pace."

Cloutier wasn't that concerned about how the race shaped up and was going to leave the strategy up to leading rider Pedro Alvarado, who will be riding Shacane for the first time.

"He worked Shacane the other day and they seem to get along just fine," she said. "He's the leading rider for a reason, and I'll just leave it up to him. The main thing is to get the horse to relax going that far."

Perfect scenario for Cruising Kat

Cruising Kat couldn't have received a better setup in the B.C. Derby than when Salt Grinder sped the first half-mile in a sizzling 45.93 seconds. Anyone close to the lead was finished turning for home, and Cruising Kat picked up the pieces for his first stakes win. In his previous race, a win over $35,000 claimers, he was much closer to the lead, and his trainer, Daryl Snow, figures he will be within striking range early in the Premier's.

Cruising Kat's five-furlong 58.60-second workout last Sunday looked "pretty sharp," said Snow, "so I don't think he'll be too far out of it. But, whatever happens it's been one hell of a year."

Cruising Kat was an unlikely B.C. Derby winner. Although he had shown a lot of potential earlier in the year and Snow felt he was good enough to try the likes of Danthebluegrassman in the Golden Gate Derby, he hadn't been able to come close to either Shacane or Silver Donn in two previous middle-distance stakes attempts at Hastings. In fact, he could have been claimed out of his winning race, just before the derby, on Sept. 8 for $35,000. Cruising Kat also won a $50,000 optional race on Aug. 24, and Snow thinks he gained a lot of confidence with the two wins.

"It was a bit of a gamble running him for $35,000 after he won for $50,000, but I figured we were probably okay, because there's only about three people around here that claim horses at that level, and I train for one of them."

Snow thinks that the horse to beat is Shacane. "He had a wide trip in the derby and didn't get beat by that much, and he should get a better trip from a better post."

Tough shipper for Ascot Graduation

Local 2-year-olds will have their hands full when Taiaslew ships in from Alberta for the $150,000 Ascot Graduation Breeders' Cup next Sunday.

A Washington-bred colt by Slewdledo, Taiaslew has won all four of his starts, by a combined 31 lengths. His latest tally came in the 1 1/16-mile Canadian Juvenile on Oct. 14, when he went gate to wire to win by an easy 6 1/2 lengths. He is trained by Greg Tracy and is owned by Shelli Tracy and Stan Ryan, who put up the $8,000 supplementary fee to run in the Ascot Graduation. A total of 22 horses have been nominated.