09/20/2006 11:00PM

England bumps Passero

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There's been a changing of the guard on the backstretch at Woodbine.

John Burness, owner of Colebrook Farm, has ended his association with trainer Frank Passero and hired trainer Phil England to run his stable here at Woodbine.

England had been the private trainer for the Molinaro Farm of Gino Molinaro, who has gone back to one of his former trainers, Vito Armata.

Burness has 32 stalls here and plenty of horses at his Colebrook Farm and training center in Uxbridge, Ontario.

"We were going well here early in the spring but we just hit a brick wall, basically, in July and August," said Burness. "I don't know what the problems are but with the amount of horses I have, I just have to be competitive.

"I just felt it was time to make a change."

In 2005, Passero sent out 31 winners at Woodbine in his first year as private trainer for Colebrook, including stakes winners Foxy Money and Bright N Golden.

At the current meeting, Passero won 17 races from 166 starters for Colebrook; he also had 37 seconds or thirds.

"I was fired for not winning enough races," said Passero, 75.

He already has vacated the Colebrook barn, but remains in action at another location.

"I have seven horses right now for different clients," Passero said. "I'm building a public stable. I will be going to Gulfstream for the winter. I'm looking for Florida horses right now.

England, who has trained for such large outfits as Knob Hill Stable and Eugene Melnyk, had yet to win a race from just 16 starters for Molinaro at Woodbine this year.

"Gino's a good guy," England said. "There just wasn't enough action for a private trainer."

But training the Molinaro horses again is fine with Vito Armata, who has six wins with his public stable this year.

"Let's hope where we can start where we left off," said Armata, who last trained for Molinaro in 2002, the year he and Molinaro won the Queen's Plate with T J's Lucky Moon.

Sky Conqueror out due to virus

Sky Conqueror, who was among the leading candidates for Sunday's Grade 2 Sky Classic, has been derailed by a virus and will not be in the lineup.

Owned and bred by Bill Sorokolit and trained by Darwin Banach, Sky Conqueror put together back-to-back Grade 2 turf stakes scores here in the July 3 King Edward and the July 23 Northern Dancer.

Entered in the Grade 2 Nijinsky on Aug. 27, Sky Classic was scratched.

"He got a little sick on us - just a virus, coughing," said Banach. "Soundness-wise, he's been 100 percent, but we haven't been able to train him properly."

Sky Conqueror's long-term goal still is the Grade 1, $2 million Canadian International, a 1 1/2-mile turf race here Oct. 22.

"We know him well enough, and know what we need to do with him," said Banach. "You can't dance every dance, especially the way he runs."

Better Talk Now ships in

Meanwhile, the $300,000 Sky Classic has attracted some formidable shippers, headed by 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now.

Better Talk Now finished seventh, beaten just 3 3/4 lengths, when making his last start in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Also slated to be here for the Sky Classic, a 1 3/8-mile turf race, are Silver Whistle and Grand Couturier, the second- and third-place finishers in Saratoga's Grade 1 Sword Dancer.

Locally based Jambalaya, Last Answer, Pellegrino, and Colorful Judgement round out the Sky Classic field of seven.P

Almerita, Streets Ahead still here

Ad Valorem and Vanderlin, the European invaders who ran in last Sunday's Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, headed home on Wednesday evening.

But Almerita and Streets Ahead, the other half of the overseas contingent that raced here that day, remain at Woodbine.

Almerita, who was beaten 1 3/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Canadian over 1 1/8 miles of turf, will be preparing for the $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes.

The Grade 1 E.P. Taylor, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for fillies and mares, will be run here on Oct. 22, along with the Canadian International.

Streets Ahead, who ran fourth in Sunday's Summer Stakes, has been transferred to trainer Neil Drysdale and will be heading next month to Keeneland, along with stablemate Becrux, the Woodbine Mile winner.

Verne's Baby romps in Overskate

Verne's Baby crushed eight Ontario-sired opponents in Wednesday's $126,600 Overskate Stakes at Woodbine, taking the seven-furlong event by 7 1/2 lengths in a sizzling final time of 1:20.54, which earned a strong Beyer Speed Figure of 105.

Jockey Emile Ramsammy had Verne's Baby in front shortly after the start, and they proceeded to set fractions of 22.77 and 44.55 seconds before drawing off through the stretch.

Favored Dave the Knave came wide and got second, and Main Executive held third over the closing Arch Hall.

The Polytrack quickened noticeably as the night wore on, and trainer Sid Attard said he was surprised to see Verne's Baby kick clear after establishing what is usually considered to be a fast pace.

"When I saw [the fractions], I thought we were in trouble, but he kept opening up," Attard said.

"He's in really good shape right now. He was supposed to be a good horse, right from the start."

Verne's Baby, a lightly raced 4-year-old owned and bred by George Bigliardi, won his first three starts, including the Queenston Stakes as a 3-year-old

First money of $75,000 in the Overskate boosted his bankroll to $301,270. - additional reporting by Ron Gierkink