07/31/2003 12:00AM

How good is Taiaslew? No one's sure


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Taiaslew has been so brilliant winning all four of his races in western Canada this season that he has people from Vancouver to Toronto wondering just how good he really is.

An exceedingly fast Washington-bred 3-year-old, Taiaslew has won 8 of his 9 career starts, including seven stakes. He has so dominated his competition, while rarely being asked to break out of a gallop, that his trainer, Greg Tracy, sounded almost apologetic when he talked about Taiaslew's three-length victory in the Manitoba Derby Trial at Assiniboia Downs on July 13.

"The Derby Trial was his worst race of the year, but I wasn't surprised," Tracy said. "I had planned to work him at Northlands before shipping him to Manitoba, but the track was muddy all weekend so I just galloped him. I actually thought he might get beat."

Tracy said the Derby Trial was the first time this year that jockey Real Simard had used his whip on Taiaslew in a race. Nevertheless, Taiaslew will be a solid favorite when he runs back in Monday's $100,000 Manitoba Derby at 1 1/8 miles.

Taiaslew began his career at Northlands Park last June, winning a 2-year-old maiden race by 10 1/2 lengths at 2-1. Since then he has been odds-on in each of his starts. He was in hand at the finish of all three of his starts at Stampede Park to begin this season, and the average winning margin in his eight victories is more than six lengths. His lone defeat came when he shipped to Hastings Park to run in the Ascot Graduation Breeders' Cup last October.

"There were a few factors that probably contributed to his dull performance," Tracy said. "He was coming back in just two weeks after winning the Canadian Juvenile. The Juvenile was his first race going a mile and a sixteenth, and he had been off for over six weeks before that. Plus I shipped him out to the coast just before the race, and he might not have adjusted to the heavier air."

It's hard to estimate how good Taiaslew is because he has totally dominated the horses he has faced in Alberta this year, and his competition there would have to be considered moderate at best. With Woodbine stakes winner Pants N Kisses a likely starter in the Manitoba Derby, he should get more of a test Monday.

David Cotey, who trains Pants N Kisses, won the Manitoba Derby with Stage Classic in 2001 when he defeated another Alberta phenomenon, Fancy As. Fancy As, however, came right back to beat Stage Classic in both the Canadian Derby and British Columbia Derby. He then went on to beat older horses in the B.C. Premiers.

Is Taiaslew as good as Fancy As? Red Smith, who trains Fancy As, said he is impressed and thinks that at a middle-distance they're probably about equal.

"Taiaslew is a genuine horse," Smith said. "Now I know how the people who owned the horses that were chasing Fancy As felt. Taiaslew might have some distance limitations, though, while Fancy As can run all day. I think Taiaslew will be very tough to beat in Manitoba, but I'm not sure how well he'll do when he comes back to go a mile and three-eighths in the Canadian Derby."

Trainer Terry Jordan, who is based at Hastings, saw enough of Taiaslew when he sent Gamblin Caper to Stampede Park to finish second to Taiaslew in the Alberta Derby.

"He beat us by seven lengths, and he was just galloping out there," Jordan said. "There's certainly nothing at Hastings that can warm him up."

Tracy bought Taiaslew, a son of Slewdledo, for $12,000 from his breeder David Stark following the Washington winter mixed sale in 2001. The colt, who has so far earned $261,000, runs under the colors of Tracy's wife, Shelli, and Stan Ryan.

"David wanted $20,000 for the horse, and although I certainly liked him, I wasn't prepared to go that high," Tracy said. "He didn't get his price at auction so I called him back a week later, and we settled on the $12,000. I was very lucky because his full sister won a maiden special weight at Santa Anita just a few days later."

Taiaslew may have slipped under the radar as a yearling, but everyone in western Canada knows him now - they just aren't sure how to measure his ability.