05/17/2005 11:00PM

Fehr's new training regimen pays off

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Alec Fehr took a different approach to his off-season training methodology last winter, starting up his horses early and building up their fitness through a program of jogging and galloping.

The move has returned dividends as Fehr, private trainer for Steve Stavro's Knob Hill Stable, already has saddled several impressive winners, including Queen's Plate nominees Granique and Atanas.

"I think it's paid off very well," said Fehr. "I'm hoping it continues, and I can't see any reason why not.

"When you take the slow approach and give them lots of mileage, the horses are a lot tougher. Their legs are tougher, and they will recuperate faster from races and workouts."

Stavro rented the Kinghaven Farm training facilities in 2004, and Fehr began using the quarter-mile indoor track and half-mile outdoor track to prepare his runners.

This year, Fehr began training there in mid-January.

"We basically started them all jogging a mile and a half," said Fehr. "Once they were up to that, we added galloping. We would gallop them up to three miles.

"We went along cautiously; if any horses were not keeping up, we would back off."

Fehr shipped into the backstretch on March 7 with 16 horses, leaving another 20 at Kinghaven.

"We were very fit," said Fehr. "We were able to come in, sit back, and not rush. There was no pressure on training them at all. We could take it easy if the weather wasn't quite right."

Two obvious beneficiaries of the program are Atanas and Granique, who entered the year as maidens but now are potential candidates for the $1 million Queen's Plate here June 26.

Atanas, a runner-up at seven furlongs in his only start last year, won over 6 1/2 furlongs of slop on opening day.

Two weeks later, Atanas was beaten a neck as the runner-up to Dance With Ravens in a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles. Dance With Ravens, winner of the Grade 2 Grey over 1 1/16 miles here last fall for Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad, is one of the leading candidates for the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate.

Granique, second when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles here last November, finished a closing fifth behind Atanas in his first start at 3 and came back two weeks later to win his maiden over 1 1/16 miles.

Granique and Atanas both were nominated to Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Marine, an open 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds, but neither is scheduled to run.

Fehr also will nominate both colts to the $150,000 Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-breds here June 5, and then see what transpires.

"I'm not quite certain what I want to do with them," said Fehr. "They've got a couple of works to get through.

"When the time comes closer, the picture will be clear what direction to take. I would like to run them both in the Plate; I think they belong there.

"And, I would like to keep them separate for their next start."

Fehr notes that Granique and Atanas are different types, both physically and in terms of running style.

"Granique is long and narrow," said Fehr. "He was never a fast horse, in his works or anything, but he never quit. It was evident as a 2-year-old that he wanted to go long.

"The longer they run, the more prominent he should become.

"Atanas is heavier and he's a fast horse; you have to settle him and get him to stretch his speed."

Surgery enables Arezzo to run to full potential

Another Knob Hill runner who has turned heads this spring is Arezzo, a 4-year-old colt who won a five-furlong maiden special by 4 1/4 lengths on opening day and came back to take a six-furlong first-level allowance by three lengths last Sunday.

Arezzo had made only one start prior to this season, finishing a faltering eighth here last June. Arezzo then underwent tests on a high-speed treadmill, and a problem with his muscle enzymes was discovered.

"He was tying up in his shoulders, getting very panicky, and flipping his palate," said Fehr.

"He had throat surgery, then we got him a lot fitter and worked on his muscles. Now he's running the way he's was training last year and has been training this year.

"It's not that he's a big surprise; we thought all along he was going to be a good horse."

Niigon likely to await Dominion Day

Niigon, winner of last year's Queen's Plate, shipped in from his nearby Chiefswood Farm headquarters to work five furlongs in 1:01 on the main track Wednesday. Regular rider Robert Landry was aboard for the drill.

Niigon, who is winless in three starts this year, has been nominated to both Monday's Eclipse Handicap and the May 29 Connaught Cup but trainer Eric Coatrieux said the colt is unlikely to run in either spot.

Coatrieux added that Niigon's first major target here will be the Grade 3, $200,000 Dominion Day Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile race on July 1.

Advance wagering on Preakness card

Woodbine and its outlets will begin offering advance wagering on Saturday's Pimlico card at approximately 3 p.m. Friday. Pick three, win four, and pick six wagering will not be available until approximately 7 p.m.

Woodbine will simulcast the fifth through 13th races from Pimlico on Saturday, with post time for the fifth race scheduled for 12:43 p.m. The Preakness, which is the 12th race, is scheduled for 6:09 p.m.

There will be a pick six on races 7 through 12, a win four on races 9 through 12, pick threes on races 6 through 8 and 11 through 13, and daily doubles on races 5 and 6 and 12 and 13.

There will be superfectas on the Preakness and the last race.