06/20/2008 12:00AM

Heros Reward in sharp form for Highlander

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Maryland-based Heros Reward always gives a good account of himself when he ships north of the border, and he should be a force to be reckoned with in Sunday’s $200,000 Highlander Stakes. The six-furlong turf dash is one of two Grade 3 stakes on Woodbine’s Queen’s Plate card, along with the Singspiel.

Heros Reward, a bargain $20,000 claim by trainer Dale Capuano in 2006, has evolved into one of the leading grass sprinters on the continent. He ran second to Smart Enough in last year’s Highlander, and he upset that rival while taking the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes here Oct. 21, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure.

Heros Reward finished third behind Lookinforthesecret when he came off the bench in the April 26 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Handicap at Calder, an effort that pleased his trainer.

“He ran very well at Calder,” Capuano said. “The turf course there was super fast and speed-favoring. The horse who won is a nice horse. He was gaining, and just couldn’t get to him.”

Most recently, on Preakness Day at Pimlico, Heros Reward captured the five-furlong Turf Sprint Stakes, a race worth $91,500.

“He ran very game at Pimlico,” said Capauno. “The turf was extremely soft that day. I didn’t really know what to expect, but he sure handled it.

“He’s very versatile. He can do pretty much whatever the rider wants him to do. He’s been a great horse for us, that’s for sure.”

The Highlander has attracted three other American invaders – Quietly Mine, Unusual Suspect, and Indian Ashton.

Quietly Mine, trained by Christophe Clement, finished three-quarters of a length back in second in last year’s Nearctic. He awaited room en route to a third-place finish most recently in the Red Wing Dream Stakes at Belmont.

Unusual Suspect, based at Hollywood Park with trainer Barry Abrams, is winless in five starts since he sprang an upset in the Grade 3 Hollywood Turf Express Handicap Nov. 24.

Indian Ashton, trained by Wesley Ward, won his last start in a $100,000 optional claimer at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Malcolm Pierce entered The Great Caruso, who has been idle since he broke the five-furlong Polytrack record in a $62,500 optional claimer here April 5.

“We still have the three-other-than condition left with him, but he’s come back and trained really well,” said Pierce. “He’s fresh, and I’m going to take my best shot with him.”

The Great Caruso, a two-time winner in five grass starts, could be the Highlander pacemaker.