04/16/2003 11:00PM

Hot-handed Pierce runs I'm the Tiger

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Malcolm Pierce has been quick off the mark here this spring, with three wins from four entrants heading into this weekend's racing.

And while Pierce will be looking to keep the ball rolling in Saturday's Woodstock with I'm the Tiger, his first stakes starter of the meet, he realizes the task won't be an easy one.

"It looks like it's come up a little salty," said Pierce, of the open, six-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds. "My horse hasn't done anything wrong yet, but this will be a serious test for him."

I'm the Tiger, a Kentucky-bred owned by Stronach Stable, has raced just twice, winning a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Gulfstream March 1 and a 6 1/2-furlong first-level allowance here March 29.

"He never made it off the farm until this winter," said Pierce, noting that I'm the Tiger had been at Adena Springs South with trainer Danny Vella before shipping to Gulfstream.

"When he first came in, he just looked like a horse," Pierce said. "But he looked more impressive, every time he worked. He's been a pleasant surprise."

While I'm the Tiger led throughout his local debut, Pierce will be looking for the gelding to lay off what should be a hotly contested pace in the Woodstock.

"He's probably a little better just stalking the pace," said Pierce. "He doesn't have to be head-and-head for the lead."

Other Pierce horses to watch

Pierce stopped over at Keene-land following the Gulfstream meeting while his wife, Sally, ran the barn here during the first few weeks of this meet.

But Pierce started only two horses in Lexington: Strizzi and Wild Arrow, who both finished off the board. He had to shelve a plan to run Rock Again there when the horse spiked a temperature.

Rock Again, a 3-year-old homebred owned by Stronach Stable, finished fifth in his six-furlong debut at Woodbine last October and ran a solid second over seven furlongs at Gulfstream Jan. 25.

A Canadian-bred, Rock Again delivered in his next outing, scoring over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream and conjuring visions of the Queen's Plate for his connections.

Rock Again breezed four furlongs in 49.80 seconds Saturday. "He didn't do much; I just wanted to make sure he was over his sickness," Pierce said.

"I liked him all last year, but he was a little immature. He's not a very big horse, but I think he can run."

Strizzi a turf horse after all

Strizzi, another Stronach homebred, also is nominated to the Plate, but his future may lie on turf not dirt.

Strizzi graduated over 1 1/16 miles on the main track last fall. and Pierce said he trains well on dirt.

"But his last dirt race at Gulfstream was very disappointing; there was no excuse for it," Pierce said. "Sometimes true turf horses, when they really get the feel for it, don't 'dirt' very well anymore."

Strizzi turned heads at Gulfstream in his turf debut, rallying from last place in a field of 10 for a going-away victory over 1 1/16 miles Jan. 8.

Racing over the same course and distance in the Dave Feldman Stakes later in January, Strizzi finished eighth but only 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Following his unscheduled return to dirt racing, in an off-the-turf allowance in which Strizzi was beaten 21 1/4 lengths, the colt returned to grass for Keeneland's Transylvania Stakes at one mile and finished a closing fifth.

"In retrospect, that's probably not far enough for him," said Pierce.

"But he's a nice little 3-year-old colt, and hopefully he'll have the Breeders' [Stakes] on his agenda down the road. He's had enough racing the last little while. He'll have a little break and regroup."

The $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds which is the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, will be run here Aug. 9.

Wild Arrow better on dirt

Wild Arrow, a Kentucky-bred Stronach 3-year-old, will be heading back to dirt racing after finishing sixth on the grass at Keene-land. Wild Arrow had run fourth at Gulfstream in his first turf try.

"I thought he wasn't quite ready for the race; he might have been a little short," said Pierce. "But he had no excuse at Keeneland. I have to assume he's better on dirt."

Pierce is aiming Wild Arrow for the $125,000 Victoria Park Stakes, an open 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds here June 8.

Miss Crissy not quite ready

Miss Crissy, a Sovereign Award finalist in the 2-year-old filly division last year, will bypass Sunday's Lady Angela Stakes and is pointing for the $150,000 Fury at Woodbine May 4.

"She's not ready yet," said trainer Emile Allain.

Miss Crissy won two six-furlong stakes here last fall. She wintered in Florida, returned to Woodbine last month, and had her first workout of the year on March 29.