09/26/2009 12:00AM

Eye of the Leopard returns

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Michael Burns
Eye of the Leopard would be a top candidate for a Sovereign with an Ontario Derby win.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Eye of the Leopard, winner of the Queen's Plate, will try to rebound from an unsuccessful turf experiment in the Breeders' Stakes when he returns to Polytrack Sunday at Woodbine in the $150,000 Ontario Derby.

The nine-furlong event has also lured two stakes winners trained by John Ross, Awesome Rhythm and Stylish Citizen. A decisive victory by Eye of the Leopard or Awesome Rhythm in the Ontario Derby would help boost his case for the Sovereign Award as champion 3-year-old.

Eye of the Leopard graduated second time out in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special May 10, and then doubled up in the Plate Trial Stakes. He captured the $1 million Queen's Plate in his fourth start, but could manage only third in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.

Trainer Mark Frostad gave Eye of the Leopard, a son of A.P. Indy, a break after the Aug. 2 Breeders', in which he was well beaten as the favorite.

"He had a pretty tough grind there," said Frostad. "It's a lot to handle when you go from a maiden race to winning the Plate six weeks later. That certainly showed in the Breeders'. I'm not sure that he's [a turf horse] in any event. He needed a little break, and he's coming back in good order."

Awesome Rhythm won three consecutive route stakes on the Polytrack during the spring. He finished fourth two starts ago in the Toronto Cup Stakes on turf, and was also fourth most recently in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer.

"He ran okay on the turf, but the Polytrack is his favorite," said Ross. "I thought he gave a good effort in West Virginia. He was only four lengths behind Mine That Bird, which isn't too shabby."

Stylish Citizen, who captured the Charlie Barley Stakes in June, was a nonthreatening fourth after getting sandwiched at the break in the Grade 3 Canadian Derby at Northlands Park Aug. 22.

"He got bumped from both sides," said Ross. "He overreached when he got hit, and stepped on himself. There was a pretty good chunk out of his front foot. In those races, you have to be up in the first tier, especially in a 12-horse field."

The Bobby Frankel-trained Eagle Poise won his third race in a row in the allowance prep for the Ontario Derby, for which he got a Beyer Speed Figure of 88.