06/03/2004 11:00PM

Farm life suits Plate prospects


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Niigon and Alleged Ruler both wintered in Florida and have spent very little time at Woodbine since returning to Ontario, lodging and training at nearby Chiefswood Farm.

But both Niigon and Alleged Ruler have made their presence felt when they did appear here, and if all goes well they could give Chiefswood and trainer Eric Coatrieux a one-two punch for the $1 million Queen's Plate June 27.

Coatrieux, who had been an assistant to trainer Roger Attfield here and for Godolphin Racing in Dubai before accepting a position as the private trainer for Chiefswood principals Bob and Mark Krembil two years ago, no longer stables horses at Woodbine and ships in only to race and for the occasional work.

The regimen has worked well enough as Niigon and Alleged Ruler ran one-two in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special race May 8 and Alleged Ruler returned to win at that same distance last Saturday.

Niigon will be looking to cement his credentials for the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate when he runs in Sunday's Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

A homebred colt by Unbridled, Niigon tuned up for the Trial over the seven-furlong Chiefswood track on Thursday morning, breezing three furlongs under regular rider Robert Landry while clocked by Coatrieux in 36 seconds.

Niigon had shown plenty of potential at 2 and closed out his three-race campaign with a third-place finish behind American-breds Smoocher and Organ Grinder in the Grade 2 Grey at 1 1/16 miles here Oct. 5.

"After the Grey we stopped on him, to give him time to grow and mature, and he went down to Florida," said Coatrieux.

"He trained good down there. Unfortunately, he didn't run any good at all."

Niigon started twice in two-turn maiden special weight races at Gulfstream and never threatened.

"It looked like on those two occasions he just didn't really handle the surface there," said Coatrieux, who admitted he was perplexed by Niigon's performances.

Coatrieux could come up with no better reason for Niigon's effort over 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland, where he was in contention early but weakened badly.

It was certainly a different Niigon on display here May 8, however, as he won by 6 3/4 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 86.

Niigon was racing without blinkers for the first time that day, but Coatrieux is reluctant to cite that change as the prime reason for colt's resurgence.

"Since he came back, he's been great," said Coatrieux. "He handles things better, and seems more focused."

Alleged Ruler is nominated to the Victoria Park, an open 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds here June 13, but probably is going straight to the Plate.

"I was going to run him in [the Victoria Park], but it's awfully close," said Coatrieux. "I think it's too much in a short period."

Alleged Ruler, a homebred colt by A.P. Indy, was unraced at 2 and was a troubled sixth when he made his career debut over 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland on April 22. He will be making just his fourth career start in the Plate.

"He just was not ready to run last year," said Coatrieux. "He was immature. But, he's been okay since the spring; he's improving all the time."

Pletcher tries to repeat pattern with Little Bentley

Little Bentley, who checked into Woodbine early Thursday morning after a 12-hour van ride from Belmont, will be making his local debut in Sunday's Plate Trial.

If he passes the test then Little Bentley will be looking to become the second Queen's Plate winner for owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk and R Bristow Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher, who connected with Archers Bay in 1998.

Archers Bay also was making his first start at Woodbine when he finished a distant second to Brite Adam in the Plate Trial, but turned the tables in emphatic fashion on Plate Day.

Little Bentley, while not as experienced as Archers Bay at this stage of their careers, comes into the Trial off a 1 1/16-mile maiden victory at Belmont that earned him a solid Beyer Speed Figure of 94.

That start was just the third in Little Bentley's career, which began in March when the colt finished fourth in a six-furlong $80,000 maiden claimer at Gulfstream and continued with a second-place finish at Aqueduct in a seven-furlong maiden special.

"He's been running very well," said assistant trainer Michelle Nihei, who spent the winter at Gulfstream with Little Bentley. "They decided this was a good spot to have a go."

Nihei was aboard Friday morning when Little Bentley got his first taste of the main track, galloping a mile.

"He was very professional," said Nihei. "He's a bit of a character; he's a bit 'colty' still.

"Sometimes on a new track, they're busy looking around, but he paid attention to his rider. He seemed to like the footing. He's acclimating very well."

Accompanying Little Bentley on his trip was Ocean Drive, who was entered in Saturday's Nassau Stakes.

Wando, Perfect Soul prep for undetermined stakes

A pair of reigning Canadian champions breezed on the firm turf training track Friday morning.

Wando, Horse of the Year and 3-year-old colt honoree in 2003, was clocked in 1:28.60 for seven furlongs under regular rider Patrick Husbands while Perfect Soul went six furlongs in 1:16 under Landry.

Both Wando and Perfect Soul are nominated to the Grade 2, $300,000 King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race here June 19, but neither horse is a confirmed participant.

Mike Keogh, who trains Wando, said he would also nominate the colt to the Grade 3, $200,000 Dominion Day Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile dirt race here July 1.

Perfect Soul, trained by Attfield, has had the King Edward on his calendar but missed some training time recently with a bruised foot.

"I don't think he's backed up on me too much," said Attfield, after watching Perfect Soul work Wednesday. "He went slower than I wanted him to go this morning, but he finished well."