08/30/2006 11:00PM

Like a Gem gets her distance and surface

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Like a Gem turned in one of the quicker works to date on the new Polytrack surface here at Woodbine, going five furlongs in 1:00, the best of 41 works at the distance when the surface opened for training last Sunday.

"She worked awful well, and did it quite easy," said Danny Vella, who trains Like a Gem for owner-breeder Garland Williamson.

On Saturday, however, Like a Gem will run on the turf in the $125,000 Ontario Colleen, a one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies.

Like a Gem won the Wonder Where in an upset at 1 1/4 miles on the turf here July 9, but then finished last of six in the Duchess over 7 1/2 furlongs on the inner track.

"To be honest, going by the first time, you could see wasn't handling the racetrack [in the Duchess]," said Vella. "When she doesn't run, there's a reason."

Meanwhile, Vella believes that the one-mile distance of the Ontario Colleen should suit Like a Gem.

"She's won at five furlongs and she's won going a mile and a quarter," said Vella. "I would think about a mile to a mile and an eighth hits her bang-on."

Like a Gem is one of three Vella-trained fillies entered in the Ontario Colleen, along with Riverada and Storm Royale.

Owned by Ed Seltzer, Larry Shine and Doug Roscoe, Riverada won her maiden over seven furlongs of turf in her last start here Aug. 19. Riverada, a Kentucky-bred, broke through in her ninth appearance after finishing second four times.

"She's finished right behind some stakes winners," said Vella. "She's a nice filly."

Storm Royale, a Kentucky-bred owned by Ed Seltzer and Ed Lipton, is a maiden after three starts but has been beaten a grand total of 3 1/4 lengths while finishing third twice and fourth in her other outing.

Slated to run in a maiden special here last Sunday, Riverada was scratched when that race was taken off the turf and it wound up being the last race run over the temporary inner dirt track.

Wedded Woman out to make amends

Wedded Woman, a troubled fifth as the favorite in the one-mile turf prep for the Ontario Colleen, will be out to redeem herself in Saturday's feature.

"Her getting stopped dead the way she did didn't help her," said Brian Lynch, who trains Wedded Woman for Stronach Stable. "If she doesn't get into any traffic problems this time, she's going to be very tough. She's training fantastic."

Wedded Woman also had been off for two months prior to the Ontario Colleen prep, since finishing sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks on June 11.

The filly ran two solid races over the Gulfstream turf course in March and April.

Royal Challenger to pass on Saranac

Royal Challenger was being considered for Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Saranac at Saratoga, but she will not be undertaking that journey, Lynch said.

"I'm going to wait for the Ontario Derby and give him a little more time," said Lynch. "He's doing really good."

The Grade 3, $200,000 Ontario Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds, will be run here Oct. 1.

Royal Challenger became a stakes winner for Team Stronach in his last start, in the Breeders' at 1 1/2 miles on turf here Aug. 6.

French Beret is Saranac-bound

French Beret, beaten a neck as the second-place finisher in the Breeders' after winning the Toronto Cup here over 1 1/8 miles on the grass, left Woodbine on Thursday morning for Saratoga to run in the Saranac.

Owned by Sam-Son Farm and trained by Mark Frostad, French Beret will be ridden by John Velazquez in the in the Saranac, a 1 3/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.

Woodbine-based horses have won two recent runnings of the Saranac - Shoal Water winning for Sam-Son and Frostad in 2003 and Jambalaya for Kingfield Racing Stable and Catherine Day Phillips last year.

Questuary sparkles on new Polytrack

Trainer Ian Howard was hoping Woodbine's new Polytrack would be kinder to closers than the old main track.

That wish came true Wednesday night when Howard's stretch-runner Questuary won the $126,600 Eternal Search, the first stakes run over the surface.

Questuary trailed early and was about eight lengths off the lead on the backstretch in the 1 1/16-mile route. She began to mount a wide rally on the far turn, and then overhauled London Snow at the sixteenth pole en route to a 1 1/2-length victory under rider Ray Sabourin.

London Snow was second, 2 1/4 lengths clear of another stalker, favored Executive Flight, who had traffic problems on the far turn.

To the Brim and Swiftnsassy, who dueled through moderate fractions of 24.69 and 49.51 seconds, finished seventh and ninth in the nine-horse field of Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies.

Questuary paid $10.70 and ran the distance in 1:47.01. She earned $75,000 in her first stakes win for Wayward Stable and The Estate of J. F. Howard. Howard said he decided not to run Questuary on the tight-turned inner track, which was used during the Polytrack construction.

"She's never been great around the turns," Howard said. "She really needs a track where you have a chance to run off the pace."

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink