05/13/2005 12:00AM

Grab Bag primed for Hendrie


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Grab Bag quietly slipped into town Friday morning at Woodbine, under cover of darkness.

Her connections hope Grab Bag's presence will not have escaped notice following her appearance in Sunday's $164,100 Hendrie Handicap, a 6 1/2-furlong feature for fillies and mares.

Grab Bag, trained by Tom Skiffington, is 6 years old but has made just 14 starts, recording 6 wins and 11 in-the-money finishes, while earning $231,850.

"She's a very, very classy mare," said assistant trainer Craig Marshall, who shipped up from Monmouth with Grab Bag.

"I've been with her since she was a 2-year-old," Marshall added. "She's done nothing but improve, and she's as honest as the day is long.

"She's a nice filly to be around. She's very professional."

Grab Bag, who was at Palm Meadows over the winter, made two starts at Tampa Bay Downs, winning the seven-furlong Manatee before finishing third in the 1 1/16-mile Wayward Lass on March 5.

Marshall said he believes the Hendrie distance will suit Grab Bag, who will be ridden by Robert Landry.

"I think it hits her right between the eyes," Marshall said. "She's a filly with a lot of pace."

Skiffington runners have been a rare sight at Woodbine, but the trainer has been successful the last three times he started a horse here, all stakes scores by Anguilla.

Owned by John and Glenn Sikura, Anguilla won the River Memories in 1998 and both the Nassau and Canadian in 1999.

Skiffington also won the 1991 Nearctic with Hadif.

Rain may delay start of turf season

Sunday is scheduled to be the beginning of turf racing for the 2005 meeting. But there's always that dreaded addendum, "weather permitting," and there are showers in the forecast.

The $87,900 allowance prep for the Connaught Cup is scheduled to go over one mile on the E.P. Taylor turf course and attracted a field of 10 plus two main-track only entrants.

The first turf stakes of the meet is the Grade 3 Connaught Cup, a 1 1/16-mile race for 4-year-olds and upward. The $150,000 race will be run on May 29 and attracted 29 nominees.

Racing secretary Steve Lym said the general turf schedule will allow for three turf races on Saturdays and Sundays; two on Wednesdays, Fridays, and holiday Mondays; and one on Thursdays. The course is scheduled to close following the Nov. 6 card.

Lym said that in addition to stakes and overnight handicaps, other turf races will include straight maiden and allowance races and claiming races for $40,000 and upward.

Tom Cosgrove, Woodbine's director of racing, said a total of 216 turf races were run last year and 41 more were scheduled for turf but had to be switched to the main track.

Training turf course to open May 22

Cosgrove also said the turf training course is scheduled to open Sunday, May 22, for a special session restricted to nominees for the Connaught Cup and the Nassau Stakes.

The Grade 2, $300,000 Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, is scheduled for June 4.

The official opening for the turf training course is set for Wednesday, May 25. The regular turf training schedule will be on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays - weather permitting, of course.

Only three supplemented for Oaks

Fifty-six Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies remain eligible for the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks, which will be run over 1 1/8 miles on June 12.

The deadline for the final nominations payment for the Oaks was May 1, which also was the final chance to supplement at a cost of $5,000. Gold Strike, Ready and Alluring, and Anna's Ballerina were the only supplementary nominees.

Gold Strike, trained by Reade Baker, was the runner-up in the six-furlong Star Shoot on April 24 and is scheduled to start in next Sunday's Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Selene.

Ready and Alluring and Anna's Ballerina are homebreds who are owned by Bill Sorokolit and will be trained here by Darwin Banach.

Ready and Alluring was a 16 1/2-length maiden winner over 1 1/16 miles at Belmont on Wednesday, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 84.

Anna's Ballerina started five times at Gulfstream this winter, with her best effort a second-place finish at one mile.

The deadline for Queen's Plate payments, $1,000 for current nominees and $15,000 for supplements, is Sunday.

New family area debuts July 1

Woodbine plans to open a new family area, which will be located just west of the clubhouse turn in the space between the turf course and the main track and is accessible by tunnel.

The opening date is set for Canada Day, July 1, which falls on a Friday this year.

"We're quite excited about it," said Jane Holmes, vice president of corporate affairs for the Woodbine Entertainment Group.

"We realized we were like a farm within a city, and we can give people an opportunity to come out to spend a day and get up close and personal with horses."

The area will be sponsored by Equine System, which specializes in projects such as fencing and stall construction. The area will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays through Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Holmes said amenities would include a picnic area, a barbeque concession, televisions, and mutuel facilities.

Equine System will provide a fully equipped barn with two stalls and a tack room stocked by Woodbine-based supplier Greenhawk.

Holmes said the family area program also would include visits by guest speakers, including jockeys, trainers, veterinarians, farriers, and grooms.

The site will also will be the launching pad for regular public tours of Woodbine's backstretch, beginning at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.