05/31/2005 11:00PM

Hammett's stable on a roll

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It's unlikely that many could have foreseen what would transpire when Jody Hammett took over as the trainer for owner Herbert Chambers this year.

Hammett has held one of the hottest hands on the grounds this spring, with 8 victories from 21 starts after Praise From Dixie and Gamblers Slew both scored last Sunday.

Hammett is just 31 years old but already qualifies as a veteran racetracker - he began coming to the backstretch some 20 years ago when an uncle had horses with the late trainer Joe Attard.

At age 15, Hammett took the plunge, completing his mandatory schooling under a special program while working full time here with Attard.

"I was hot-walking, shed-rowing horses, grooming," said Hammett. "I was there for about 10 years."

Hammett went on to work for other trainers, including Ross Armata, Sean Hall, Mike Wright Jr., and Mike DePaulo, picking up his assistant trainer's license along the way.

Then, two years ago, Hammett decided to strike out on his own.

"I'd been here all my life, and I didn't want to step on anybody's toes," said Hammett. "I thought I'd go to Fort Erie, and see if people would send me horses to get me started up."

Hammett won with his second entrant at Fort Erie but was blanked in 32 more starts in 2003, although he did send out seven second-place finishers.

Then, last year, Hammett hooked up with Chambers at Fort Erie and won races with Prime Wisdom and Northern Trelawny.

But the tide didn't really begin to turn for Hammett until last fall, when he returned to Woodbine for the final three months of the meeting.

Hammett claimed Pants N Kisses for $20,000 and sent him out to win for $35,000 in his first start for owners Michael Edwards and Bruce Behrend.

Then Praise From Dixie, whom Hammett had claimed for $12,500 for Chambers here in September, won his seasonal finale for $9,000.

Over the winter, Chambers offered Hammett the full-time position as his Woodbine trainer.

"He asked me to come up to his farm in Orangeville and have a look at the horses," said Hammett, who brought the Chambers string to the backstretch on March 1. "When I looked down the shed row, when we came in this year, I knew we had some nice horses."

An early-season highlight for the barn was the May 20 score by Deputy Cures Blues, who won the Lady Angela here in 2003 but hadn't won in 12 subsequent starts.

Deputy Cures Blues, a 5-year-old mare, was a 7 3/4-length winner in her seasonal debut, in a fourth-level allowance at six furlongs. The 100 Beyer Speed Figure she earned that day is by far the best of her career.

"She's a nervous, uptight filly," said Hammett. "We tried a few things different with her. The way she was breezing, we knew she was going to do all right. I didn't know how good she really was."

Deputy Cures Blues is scheduled to come back in the $125,000 Ballade, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares here Wednesday.

Gamblers Slew, a 3-year-old colt, was an upset winner of his debut last year but finished last of seven in the Silver Deputy.

Sunday, Gamblers Slew returned in a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and upward at six furlongs on turf and was a convincing winner.

"The turf wasn't really expected," said Hammett. "I'd entered him in another race that didn't go. I knew he was a good horse, capable of beating those kind of horses."

And then there's Praise From Dixie, who is 9 years old but ran his winning streak to four with victories here this spring for claiming prices of $18,000, $16,000, and $25,000. All three wins came at five furlongs.

"What a horse he is," said Hammett. "He has a lot of back class."

Hammett said Praise From Dixie spent seven or eight weeks swimming at nearby Argyle Farm before coming to the track this spring.

"He's had quite a turnaround," said Hammett.

Praise From Dixie is on the farm for a brief freshening.

Hammett pays his debt

While Hammett will be looking for his first stakes victory as a trainer when Deputy Cures Blues runs in the Ballade, he already has been a part-owner of a stakes winner, Rum Splasher.

Hammett was working in 2001 as a groom for Hall, who trained Rum Splasher. The horse won the Colin as a 2-year-old and was sold privately the following winter.

Rum Splasher subsequently fell on hard times, however, and was on the shelf with a broken bone in his pastern when Hammett and his partners tracked him down last summer.

"We paid for his surgery and brought him back," said Hammett, noting that Rum Splasher now is enjoying a life of leisure on the farm in Fort Erie. "He was good to us; we owed him."

Ablo works seven-eighths in company

Ablo, a Queen's Plate candidate trained by Roger Attfield, worked seven furlongs in 1:26.60 on the training track Wednesday, going in company with stablemate Area Limits.

Regular rider Gerry Olguin, who guided Ablo to an upset victory here in last fall's 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, was aboard for the drill.

Ablo has started three times this year, most recently finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Marine at 1 1/16 miles here May 21.

While Ablo is nominated to Sunday's Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, Attfield is leaning toward the June 12 Victoria Park, an open race at the same distance.

The $1 million Queen's Plate at 1 1/4 miles will be run on June 26.

"I thought I'd like to go three weeks from his last race, then two to the Plate," said Attfield. "That feels better to me at this point in time."

Area Limits, also eligible for the Plate but still a maiden after five starts, was clocked in 1:27.60 under jockey Jim McAleney.