08/15/2007 12:00AM

Johnson gets young star in Poco Uno


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Red Johnson, perennially one of the top percentage trainers in Ontario, has been connecting at his usual steady clip this season.

Heading into Wednesday night's card at Woodbine, Johnson had clicked with 9 of 38 starters here, while going 5 for 8 in side trips to Fort Erie.

"It's been a good year," said Johnson, who turned 60 in June but is turning over a new leaf with his racing operation. "I've started to go young. All my life, I've been training classy old cripples. Eventually, you're stuck. You don't get any races for them here.

"So I've been getting rid of them at Fort Erie. Basically, all I've got here is 2- and 3-year-olds, and a couple of 4-year-olds."

Poco Uno, a Kentucky-bred 2-year-old filly, is the star of the stable.

Owned by Hal Snowden Jr. and Elizabeth Santen, Poco Uno has won her first two starts and will be making her stakes debut here Saturday in the $125,000 Ontario Debutante at 6 furlongs.

"Hal Snowden Jr. sent her up to me," Johnson said. "He told me I'd like this filly, that she had some talent.

"She did."

Poco Uno debuted with a $40,000 tag at 4 1/2 furlongs here June 29, overcoming a poor start and coasting to a 2 1/4-length victory as part of an entry favored at 7-10. Johnson said he had discussed the risks of losing Poco Uno with Snowden, but the owner was willing to roll the dice.

"He's a guy that sells horses," Johnson said. "He just wants me to run them right.

"I said she'd win, but somebody may bite. That was the last tag for her."

Three weeks later, Poco Uno moved to the first-allowance level for a 5 1/2-furlong race that included some highly regarded types.

"She won even easier," said Johnson, who has been known to risk a bob or two on his horses and had extra cause to celebrate when Poco Uno returned $48.90 under jockey Constant Montpellier.

Her price won't be that right in the Ontario Debutante, as Poco Uno figures to be the second choice behind Dancing Allstar.

"This is the acid test," Johnson said. "She's never been beaten morning, noon, or night, by nobody.

"Con said she's one of the few he's ridden that has gears, and he hasn't even had to use them yet.

"This was a race that was marked in for her, before she even ran. We thought it would be the right spot if she was what we hoped she was."

Unreal Rocket seeks two in row

Unreal Rocket, who joined Johnson's string here recently, will be looking for her second straight victory in as many starts over the local turf course here in Friday's feature.

An Illinois-bred 4-year-old mare owned by Nicholas Ballodimas, Unreal Rocket was a front-running winner for $50,000 here in her 1 1/16-mile opener and is entered for $77,500 in Friday's third-level optional claiming feature at seven furlongs.

"She was running bad in Chicago and Hal Snowden, who sold her, suggested to the owner that he bring her up here," Johnson said.

Last Answer works toward Nijinsky

Last Answer, who is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Northern Dancer, breezed a mile in 1:40.40 on the training track turf course here Wednesday in preparation for the Nijinsky on Aug. 26.

Jockey Ray Sabourin was aboard for the drill, subbing for Last Answer's regular rider, Emile Ramsammy.

"I thought he worked lovely," said Mike Keogh, who trains Last Answer for owner-breeder Gustav Schickedanz.

The $300,000 Nijinsky, like the Northern Dancer, is a Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile turf race.

Last Answer, a 7-year-old gelding, was beaten a neck as the runner-up behind the invading Rush Bay in last year's Nijinsky.

Sky Conqueror, Canada's reigning champion turf horse, is coming off a 1 1/2-length victory in the Northern Dancer and is looming as the horse to beat in this year's renewal.

Eccentric workout disappoints

Eccentric, another leading player in the turf division here this year, breezed five furlongs in 1:03.80 on the training turf course under regular rider David Clark on Wednesday.

Trainer Roger Attfield watched Eccentric work in company with the recent maiden-winning filly More to Prove, who was clocked in 1:01.80.

Attfield had not been happy with Eccentric's recent trials, and Wednesday's was no exception.

"I thought he could work better," Attfield said. "He's probably going to have to get a little time off."

A 6-year-old gelding owned by Gary Tanaka, Eccentric is 2 for 2 on the turf here this year, winning the Grade 3, 1o1/16-mile Connaught Cup and the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile King Edward.

Eccentric defeated Sky Conqueror and Jambalaya, both Grade 1 winners in the United States this season, in the King Edward.

Colleen fillies work

Red Birkin and Sans Souci Island, also trained by Attfield, worked on the training turf course here Wednesday in preparation for the Ontario Colleen.

The $125,000 Ontario Colleen, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies, will be run here Sept. 1.

Red Birkin, a Kentucky-bred, breezed four furlongs in 49.60 seconds under assistant trainer Rachel Halder. That drill was Red Birkin's first since she finished eighth in the Grade 3 Lake George over 1 1/16 miles of turf at Saratoga on July 27.

"She bled badly," Attfield said. "We'll have to see how she comes out of this work."

Sans Souci Island breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 with regular rider Richard Dos Ramos in the irons.

Sans Souci Island was well-backed when making her stakes debut in the Wonder Where over 1 1/4 miles of turf here July 28, but finished a non-threatening seventh.

"She got the 'thumps' a little bit coming out of the race," Attfield said of an electrolyte imbalance in a horse. "She took a reaction to something, or it was just the hot weather. Something was amiss. But she's come back and worked very well."