03/11/2006 12:00AM

English Channel scores in 2006 debut

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
English Channel (right) holds off Miesque's Approval to win Saturday's Canadian Turf.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - English Channel had been away 4 1/2 months and was returning at a distance that is probably shorter than his very best in Saturday's $100,000 at Gulfstream Park. But neither proved a problem as English Channel got his 2006 campaign off to a promising start with a three-quarter-length win over Miesque's Approval in the 1 1/16-mile Canadian Turf.

English Channel, a 4-year-old son of Smart Strike who has twice placed in Grade 1 stakes, had not started since finishing a tiring fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He stalked the pace of Gulch Approval from the outset of the Canadian Turf, gained a short advantage in early stretch, edged clear, and withstood the final rallies of Miesque's Approval and Silver Tree.

Miesque's Approval, who beat Silver Tree by three parts of a length to upset the Sunshine Millions Turf here Jan. 28, proved narrowly best once again in the rematch despite trailing early and rallying five wide leaving the final turn. Two-time Grade 1 winner Good Reward was another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth while making his first start since September.

English Channel is trained by Todd Pletcher for owner James Scatuorchio. He went postward the slight favorite over Silver Tree and paid $5.60. The final time was 1:39.13 over a firm course.

"My only real concern coming into the race is that he did not run well over this course last year," said Pletcher. "But that was only the second start of his career, and he was still a little green back then. I guess we can put that worry to bed now."

Pletcher was encouraged by the way English Channel galloped out after the race and said he's still uncertain what his horse's best distance might be.

"He ran well going a mile and one-half in the Turf Classic and in the Breeders' Cup Turf, although I think he might be most effective going a mile and one-eighth to a mile and one-quarter because of his explosive turn of foot," Pletcher said.

Pletcher said English Channel would likely make his next start in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.