12/07/2007 12:00AM

In good year for Baker, a few got away

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - For most trainers, the campaign enjoyed by Reade Baker would be a dream season.

And while Baker is not about to belittle his good fortune, he still cannot help looking back at what might have been.

"The year certainly had its ups and downs," said Baker, a Sovereign Award finalist who ranked fourth in races won with 46 and third in money won with $3 million heading into the final three cards of the Woodbine meeting.

Baker actually suffered his first setbacks before the meeting opened on March 31.

Jim McAleney, who has been Baker's go-to rider in recent years, suffered a broken leg in a training mishap.

McAleney, who had ridden 67 of Baker's 76 winners last year, did not return to action until Aug. 22 and had been aboard 15 of Baker's winners through Thursday.

"We used a bunch of different guys when Jimmy was out, and I certainly didn't have any complaints about any of them," said Baker. "But, it wasn't the same as having 'your guy.' We have a great rapport. You feel more comfortable in doing things when you have his kind of input."

Baker also began the meeting without Mike Fox, whom he had considered a serious Queen's Plate hopeful at 2 but who was moved to a new barn in the off-season.

Mike Fox, of course, went on to win the Queen's Plate.

"Certainly, losing the Plate winner didn't help either," said Baker. "But, considering all things, it was a fabulous year."

Baker has saddled eight stakes winners here, with Executive Choice looking to add to that total in Saturday's Sir Barton.

But, Baker also had enjoyed significant success on the road with wins by Bear Now in the Grade 2, $750,000 Cotillion at Philadelphia Park, Wind in My Wings in the $150,000 Jessamine at Keeneland, Notgivin-myloveaway in the $75,000 Pennsyl-vania Nursery at Philadelphia, and Bosskiri in the $50,000 Ernie Samuel Memorial at Fort Erie.

Baker also plans to take another out-of-town shot this year, with Bear Lahaina bound for the $65,000 Sandpiper, a six-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 29.

Bear Lahaina, owned by Danny Dion, won her only start here Nov. 9 at five furlongs.

Baker, who won the Sovereign Award as outstanding trainer in 2005, is a finalist for the third straight year.

Dion is on the short list for outstanding owner for the first time, with his filly Bear Now a finalist in both the 3-year-old filly and sprinter divisions and Bear Holiday on the short list for 2-year-old male honors.

"Danny's thrilled, and I'm thrilled," said Baker. "But, to be very honest with you, I'll be pretty disappointed if Bear Now didn't get something."

Stable maps out Florida plans

Baker will be based at Palm Meadows with 15 horses this winter with an eye toward racing at Gulfstream Park.

"I have better horses than I've had there in any time of my career," said Baker.

Horses whom Baker is looking forward to running at Gulfstream include Notgivinmyloveaway, Bearactor, and Kentucky Bear.

Notgivinmyloveaway, a Pennsylvania-bred owned by Jus Luk Stable, will point for the Grade 2, $150,000 Hutcheson, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds on Jan. 5.

Bearactor, a Kentucky-bred 2-year-old owned by Dion, is a maiden who finished a troubled fourth in the Laurel Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on turf in his last start.

Kentucky Bear, another Kentucky-bred 2-year-old owned by Dion, is unraced.

"We think he's a very special horse," said Baker. "I'm hoping to run him the first week at Gulfstream."

Bear Now, winner of four stakes and $769,750 this year, and Bear Holiday, who was 3 for 3 with two stakes victories, both should return to action at Gulfstream around the first of March.

"Having horses like Bear Now, Bear Holiday, and Notgivinmylove-away certainly bodes well for the future," said Baker.

Baker gave Baird a leg up

Horses like Bear Now and Bear Holiday have done wonders for the present and future of jockey Jerry Baird, who wound up being a Baker regular due to McAleney's absence.

"I needed somebody who would give us a call on Bear Now no matter what we did with her," said Baker. "Not many guys were in that spot.

"And, I heard somebody comment one day that Baird had ridden a race like a riverboat gambler. When I heard that, I said, 'That's the guy for Danny.' "

Baird, 38, has been riding since 1989 but has had an up-and-down career, including years where he rode sparingly and even missed an entire season due to injuries and personal problems.

Baird had appeared to be back in business here last year when disaster again struck.

"Everything was starting to roll when I broke my leg in September," said Baird. "I'd had a whole lot of seconds and knew they'd come back and do well. And they did, but with somebody else riding. Trainers are loyal, and I knew they'd be staying with them.

"So at the beginning of this year, things were sketchy. I didn't have very much."

Baird credits his agent, Tony Esposito, with forging the connection to the Baker outfit.

"The first horse Reade gave me was Bear Holiday, and that opened up a whole bunch of doors for people to see how I was as a rider," said Baird.

One of those doors led to the barn of trainer Mike DePaulo and Krz Exec, whom Baird piloted to back-to-back upset stakes scores in the South Ocean and Ontario Lassie. The Ontario Lassie, run Wednesday night, marked the sixth stakes win of the meeting for Baird.

Heading into Friday's card he had won 45 races and purses of $2.1 million here.

Baird's base of operations this winter will be Oaklawn Park, where he will be guaranteed some business from Woodbine-based trainers Lorna Perkins and Gary Aimonetti.

"But, I'll be keeping in touch with Baker," said Baird.

Da Silva turns in solid season

Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva also enjoyed a big year here at Woodbine, ranking sixth in races won with 78 and ninth in money won with $3.4 million heading into Friday's program.

Da Silva also has won five stakes, three coming with You Will Love Me and one apiece with My List and Artie Hot.

"I had no goals coming into this year - just to do the best I can and work hard all year," said Da Silva, who recorded 61 wins here last season and is known for his ever-present smile and infectious enthusiasm. "I'm very happy with the year I've had. I got to break in with some new trainers."

Da Silva, a 32-year-old native of Brazil, rode in his homeland and in Macau before coming to Canada four years ago.

After the meeting winds up here Sunday, Da Silva will spend three weeks in Brazil visiting with family before setting out for Singapore, where he rode last winter.

Da Silva plans to compete in Singapore until March 9 and then come home to prepare for the April 5 start of the 2008 meeting.

Olguin to Zia, then Santa Anita

Gerry Olguin will be in New Mexico on Sunday to ride A Gallant Discover for trainer Sam Scolamieri in the $175,000 Zia Park Distance Championship.

Olguin, who had ridden 36 winners here this year going into Friday's program, will return to Toronto to spend the holidays with his family before heading out for Santa Anita.

Last year, the 34-year-old Olguin earned a reputation as a longshot specialist when he rode 10 winners from 115 mounts at Santa Anita.