08/04/2004 12:00AM

First-time turfers often bomb in Breeders'


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - A Bit O'Gold is unquestionably the best dirt horse in Sunday's $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

A Bit O'Gold was second as the favorite in the $1 million Queen's Plate, and he defeated Plate winner Niigon in the second leg of the series, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, also on the main track.

However, unless there's a monsoon at Woodbine on Sunday, the Breeders' will be run on the grass, a surface over which A Bit O'Gold has yet to compete. From a historical perspective and a pedigree standpoint, he looks to have his work cut out for him in the 1 1/2-mile marathon.

In the nine years that the Breeders' has been run over the E.P. Taylor turf course, which encircles the main track, 18 horses have made their first turf start in the race, and none of them hit the top two spots. The best result of the group was Asia's third-place finish in 2001.

A Bit O'Gold's full brother Arco's Gold tried the grass for the first time in last year's Breeders', and he trailed in the eight-horse field. They also have another full brother, Adjalah, who was unplaced on the grass. A Bit O'Gold's dam won one of her five grass outings, but that victory came in a slow seven-furlong maiden special weight event.

A Bit O'Gold handled the footing well in his work over the main Woodbine turf on Monday, but a good drill over the course leading up to the Breeders' doesn't always portend a positive performance. Regal Discovery, the 1995 Queen's Plate winner and Prince of Wales runner-up, looked awesome in his final turf prep prior to the 1995 Breeders', in which he was a well-beaten 10th in the lone grass attempt of his career.

The nine-furlong Toronto Cup Handicap has been the most successful final prep for the Breeders'. During the past nine years, that open turf stakes has yielded 17 Breeders' starters - three of them won, three finished second, and two were third.

Allowance and optional claimers have also produced three Breeders' winners since 1995, along with two seconds and four thirds, from a total of 30 starters.

The Prince of Wales had one Breeders' winner, three seconds, and two thirds from 22 starters during that time. Maiden races had one victory from 11 starters, and runners exiting a stakes in the United States had one win from four starters.

Sam-Son Farm runners Silver Ticket and Burst of Fire, the first- and third-place finishers in this year's Toronto Cup, both merit serious consideration in the Breeders'.

Silver Ticket, a Silver Deputy gelding, won the Toronto Cup in an impressive display. The only time he lost in his three grass starts was when he ran a close second in the 2003 Cup and Saucer Stakes. With leading jockey Todd Kabel riding for trainer Mark Frostad, Silver Ticket will likely be the Breeders' favorite.

Burst of Fire, a son of top turf sire Smart Strike, possesses a pedigree that is a little better suited to 1 1/2 miles than Silver Ticket's. He should offer good betting value in the race.

Sam-Son has two other candidates for the Breeders' - Hunt the Rainbow, who was third in a maiden special on the grass July 24, and Rainbows for Luck, who was recently third in a 1 1/2-mile allowance.

Cavans Lane upset Hunt the Rainbow when he graduated going about 1 1/2 miles on July 24. He is the only runner in the prospective Breeders' lineup with a win over the course and distance.

Strike Em Hard, another Smart Strike gelding, is coming off a runner-up placing to the very talented Organ Grinder in a second-level allowance on the main track. He was unplaced in his only grass start, in his debut at 2, and could be a minor player in the Breeders'.

Niigon wasn't nominated to the Breeders', and has been pointed for Sunday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.

Fillies have an outstanding record in the Breeders' since 1995, posting a 3-1-2 record with eight starters. Nashinda is the only filly nominated to this year's running, but she isn't expected to run.