07/25/2002 11:00PM

Fresh 'Dawn' eager to run

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WOODBINE, Ontario - Cliff Hopmans spent more than 10 years as director of horsemen's relations at Woodbine before returning to the training game at the beginning of 2001.

So it seems appropriate that Hopmans, who had launched his first training career here in 1979, will be sending out Dawn Watcher in a new race named in honor of his former employer, Sunday's $105,000 Ontario Jockey Club Stakes.

The Ontario Jockey Club, a seven-furlong turf race for Canadian-breds, is an overnight event which is not a guaranteed part of the stakes schedule.

But the race became a "go" and barely at that, when five horses were entered here Thursday.

Dawn Watcher, a 4-year-old gelding owned by D. Morgan Firestone, will be seeking his first stakes win in the OJC.

And he comes into the race with good credentials, having earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 98 for his win in a classified allowance over seven furlongs on the main track here Queen's Plate Day, June 23.

"We knew this race was coming up," said Hopmans, "and it was kind of our key race, after his last win. It's what we've been focusing on."

Dawn Watcher won four races and $168,272 last year in his first campaign for Hopmans, and came out running this spring when he finished a closing third in a seven-furlong classified allowance here May 17.

"I thought he should have won that," said Hopmans. "He ran a terrific race. He was eight wide on the turn - another horse took him very wide."

That allowance race originally had been scheduled for turf and was to serve as the prep for the Grade 3 Connaught Cup just eight days later.

Dawn Watcher returned for the Connaught, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, but tired to finish 12th of 13.

"He was coming back way too quick, and he bounced," said Hopmans. "So we freshened him right up, came back on Plate Day, and he responded beautifully."

Dawn Watcher comes into the OJC off a five-week break, and Hopmans is anticipating another first-class effort.

"He's on top of his game," Hopmans said. "He likes to run fresh. When he comes over there jumping out of his skin, dying to run, is when he runs his best races."

Hopmans also believes the OJC distance is ideal for Dawn Watcher.

"I think with him seven furlongs is the key, turf or dirt although I think he's probably a length or two better on the grass."

The field for the OJC, in post position order, will be Legal Heir, Steady Ruckus, Dawn Watcher, Hoptuit Bud, and Olympian.

Three fillies with good potential

Hopmans is the trainer of three nominees to Saturday's feature, the six-furlong Nandi Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies, but will not be represented in the race.

While the trainer views Dashful, Good Knight Story, and Irma La Douce as worthy prospects, none of the three fillies has started and the Nandi simply is coming up too soon.

"All three of them are very nice fillies," said Hopmans. "But they're not real early foals.

"We just haven't had enough time to put enough foundation in them to go six furlongs first time out.

"We've brought them along aggressively, but they're going to need another work or two. I wish the race was 10 days from now."

Good Knight Story, a daughter of Ascot Knight who is owned by Firestone, was a $40,000 purchase at the local select yearling sale.

"I quite like her," said Hopmans, noting that Good Knight Story is a half-sister to stablemate Hollywood Ending, an allowance winner for Hopmans and Firestone here July 1.

Dashful, also owned by Firestone, is a daughter of Kiridashi who was a $100,000 purchase at the same sale.

"She's got some shins," said Hopmans. "We're not rushing her anywhere."

Irma La Douce, a homebred owned by Park Stud, also is by Kiridashi, who had his first winner with his first starter last Friday when Brigadoon captured a maiden special weight sprint at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan.

Only two winners in Bull Page

Sunday's six-furlong Bull Page Stakes, for Ontario-sired 2-year-old colts, has attracted a field of eight.

Lucky Larue, trained by Wray Lawrence, and Biddy's Lad, trained by Michael Doyle, are the only winners in the lineup.

The complete field, in post order, will be Magic Jack, Rum Talk, Pop Star, Biddy's Lad, Rob the Streaker, Lucky Larue, Tracy's Tonka Toy, and Godin.

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