11/20/2002 12:00AM

Horse of the year looks wide open

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Who is worthy of the title of Canada's horse of the year for 2002?

That will be one of the more difficult decisions facing the Sovereign Award voters, who had received their ballots Wednesday and must have them filled out and returned by Friday.

The 69 voters, split almost evenly between Ontario and western Canada, will submit their three choices for horse of the year, for eight equine divisional titles, and for owner, trainer, jockey, apprentice jockey, breeder, and broodmare.

To be eligible for consideration, horses must have started at least three times in Canada this year before Nov. 18.

The Jockey Club of Canada, which organizes the Sovereign Awards voting and ceremony, will announce the three finalists in each category (with the exception of horse of the year) on Nov. 28. The winners will be revealed at the 28th annual Sovereign Awards gala at Toronto's Royal York Hotel on Dec. 7.

The horse-of-the-year announcement, which will be the last of the evening, is sure to generate plenty of offseason debate.

With no Woodbine-based runner having stepped up and delivered a winning performance in a top-notch Grade 1 race, which was the case when Thornfield and Chief Bearhart were Canadian horses of the year in recent years, the choice this season could hinge on divisional dominance.

One possible beneficiary of that scenario is Wake at Noon, who is almost certain to take home the outstanding sprinter award after dominating the division with four stakes wins and six wins overall.

Enjoying his most lucrative campaign to date at age 5, Wake at Noon has earned $447,886 for his owner/ breeder Bruno Schickedanz and trainer Abraham Katryan and should be looking to add to that total in the $125,000 Kennedy Road Stakes here Nov. 30.

The only disappointing aspect of Wake at Noon's campaign was his out-of-town performances; he was trounced when overmatched in both the Grade 1 Met Mile and Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

One of the few locals who distinguished themselves in forays in the U.S. was Added Edge, the 2-year-old colt who capped an undefeated four-start campaign with an impressive win in the Grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct.

Added Edge, owned by Team Valor Stable and Robert Wilson and trained by Mark Casse, should get some horse-of-the-year support, but also faces some strong competition in his own division because Wando, Mobil, and Arco's Gold all put together good records.

The last 2-year-old to be named Canada's horse of the year was the filly Ruling Angel in 1986. The last 2-year-old male so honored was Dauphin Fabuleux in 1984.

Turf awards tricky for voters

Both the male and female turf categories also pose puzzles for the Sovereign Award voters.

Neither Sweetest Thing nor Diadella, the two best turf fillies on the grounds, failed to make the requisite number of starts after being sidelined by injury.

Invaders captured some of the division's key races - Fraulein winning the E.P. Taylor, Calista the Canadian, and Siringas the Nassau.

That leaves the voters with a potpourri of locals such as Chopinina, First Quarter, Heyahohowdy, Hot Talent, Lush Soldier, and Strait From Texas.

Chopinina, in fact, did not even win a stakes but finished a strong second when facing males in the Grade 1 Atto Mile here Sept. 8.

The last horse to be honored with a Sovereign Award without having won a stakes race was Dawson's Legacy, who was the champion 2-year-old male in 1997 after finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Strut the Stage, perhaps the top locally based turf male this year, only started twice at Woodbine.

And shippers also made off with some of that division's top prizes - Ballingarry keying a sweep of the top three spots by shippers in the Canadian International, Good Journey taking the Atto Mile, Moon Solitaire capturing the King Edward Breeders' Cup, and Nuclear Debate winning the Nearctic.

Most of the Sovereign-eligible turf males had their ups and downs, but one horse who could attract serious support is Portcullis, winner of three straight stakes on the grass here this summer for Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad, although his successes came at the expense of fellow 3-year-olds.

Chief Bearhart, who also campaigned for Sam-Son and Frostad, was the last 3-year-old to be voted Canada's champion turf male, in 1996, following a campaign that included a second-place finish in the Canadian International.

Mulligan the Great's season is over

Mulligan the Great, who had been nominated to Saturday's Sir Barton and to the Nov. 30 Kennedy Road, has been turned out for the season and will winter on the nearby farm of his owner, Charlie Simmons.

"We decided he'd had enough," said Cliff Hopmans, who took over as Mulligan the Great's trainer in June. "I think he could be a very serious sprinter next year."

Mulligan the Great, a 3-year-old gelding by Great Gladiator, became a stakes winner by defeating older rivals in the Kenora, a six-furlong yearling sales stakes here Sept. 2.

In his most recent outing, Mulligan the Great was a romping winner of the Deputy Minister, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds.

Mulligan the Great's strong finish mirrored that of Hopmans, who had returned to the training ranks in 2001 after a 10-year stint as director of horsemen's relations for the Ontario Jockey Club.

"The second half of the year was very, very good," said Hopmans, whose runners have won 19 races and more than $1.1 million heading into the final two weeks of the meeting. "Everything just started clicking."

Dawn Watcher, a 4-year-old gelding owned by D. Morgan Firestone, also has been a significant contributor to the Hopmans barn this year, winning 2 of 8 starts and placing in two stakes.

Although Dawn Watcher also was nominated to the Kennedy Road, he is not expected to run and may or may not race again this year.