09/19/2001 11:00PM

Highlander draws top-notch field

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Highlander Handicap, which is run on the same Sept. 30 program as two Canadian Grade 1's, the Canadian International and E.P. Taylor Stakes, seldom gets the attention that it deserves.

And that could be a particularly unfortunate oversight this year, as the Grade 3, $150,000 Highlander is shaping up as a particularly fascinating exercise.

Locally based sprinters who are considered definite starters for the six-furlong Highlander include Wake at Noon, runner-up to since-retired stablemate One Way Love in the Sovereign Award voting for champion sprinter of 2000; Krz Ruckus, winner of two stakes here this year plus the Sept. 9 Highlander prep; the up-and-coming Hopeful Moment, who defeated Krz Ruckus in the Shepperton; Mr. Epperson, winner of two turf sprint stakes this season but also comfortable on the main track; and Praise From Dixie, who upset Exciting Story in a classified allowance here June 1.

Exciting Story, who made headlines by winning the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont this spring, had been slated to return there for Saturday's Vosburgh.

But trainer Mark Casse, reached at the Keeneland sales Thursday, said Exciting Story will not be making that trip but is a possibility for the Highlander.

"We'll just see how things play out," said Casse. "We scoped him after his last race, and he just had a stream of mucus.

"He was sick for a while. I don't know what it is, but about 50 percent of our horses went through a stage where they all got pretty sick, and he was one of them. He's feeling better now."

Delaware Township, winner of the Forego at Saratoga this summer, has been pegged as the 122-pound highweight of the 19 Highlander nominees.

Wake at Noon, who ran fourth in the Forego and came back eight days later to finish 13th of 14 when in his turf debut here in the Atto Mile, is next in line with 121 pounds, followed by Exciting Story at 120.

Krz Ruckus, who gets in with 119 pounds, wound up his 2000 campaign on a winning note and ran that streak to five before finishing second in the Shepperton.

A 4-year-old owned by Ron Guidolin and partners and trained by Mike DePaulo, Krz Ruckus had won the New Providence and Overskate before finishing second in the Shepperton and was racing without blinkers for the first time in his career in the prep.

"We took the blinkers off him, trying to get him to relax," said DePaulo.

"With a horse who had won five straight races, you take the blinkers off you can be criticized. When you win, you're a hero."

Large European contingent

Both the $1.5 million Canadian International and $500,000 E.P. Taylor could have up to five European entrants.

Mutamam, who was a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs last fall, was scheduled to arrive from England Friday afternoon for the Canadian International, a 1 1/2-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and upward.

Daliapour, third-place finisher in last year's International, and Zindabad, beaten a head in Group 2 company at Ascot this June, are due in Monday from England.

Paolini, a two-time Group 1 winner in Italy this year, was to check in from Frankfurt on Monday, while Slew the Red, third behind Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe contender Hightori in last Sunday's Prix Foy at Longchamp, is to arrive from France on Thursday.

Abitara, who will be traveling with Paolini, will be the first arrival for the E.P. Taylor, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for fillies and mares. The French-based 3-year-old fillies Volga, Spring Oak, and Choc Ice are due in Thursday.

Cayman Sunset checked in from England early this month and prepped for the Taylor with a third-place finish in the Sept. 9 Canadian Handicap.

The field for the Canadian International will be announced at a special ceremony in the fourth-floor Post Parade Dining Room here Thursday. The honorary draw masters will be Kylie Bax - billed as a world-famous supermodel, actress, and Thoroughbred owner and breeder - and Jerome Williams of the Toronto Raptors.

*The Woodbine Entertainment Group will offer full-card simulcasting on Saturday's blended Turfway Park-Kentucky Cup program. There will be no WEG wagering on Saturday's Arlington Park card.

*Locally based A Fleets Dancer, owned by Cam Allard and trained by Roger Attfield, will compete in the Kentucky Cup Day's piece de resistance, the $400,000 Kentucky Cup Classic.

*Apprentice jockey Chantal Sutherland has been fined $100 for lodging a frivolous claim of foul following last Sunday's seventh race. Sutherland, aboard third-place finisher Exclusive Run, had claimed foul against the winner, Hot Pepper Hill.