11/28/2003 12:00AM

Just in case, Tiller should have speech ready


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Next Saturday's Sovereign Awards ceremony could be a feast or a famine for Bob Tiller, a finalist for the outstanding trainer award who is also represented by four nominees in the divisional categories.

"It's going to be an interesting evening," said Tiller. "I'm sure some people are going to be disappointed and upset; I just hope I'm not one of them."

Heading into the last two cards of the meeting, Tiller has clinched the trainer title here with 72 wins, nine better than runner-up Scott Fairlie.

Tiller's earnings of more than $4 million and his 15 stakes wins, pending Forever Grand's performance in Saturday's Kennedy Road, are also best and would give him the equine equivalent of baseball's triple crown.

A Triple Crown of another sort could be Tiller's nemesis in the trainer vote; he could be engulfed by the black and red tide of Wando, who carries those colors for his owner and breeder, Gustav Schickedanz.

Wando, trained by Mike Keogh, built quite a following when he romped through the Queen's Plate, Prince of Wales, and Breeders', becoming the first horse to win Canada's Triple Crown since Peteski in 1993.

The exploits of Wando and Mobil, a stablemate who in any other year would have been a champion, should carry Schickedanz to awards in the owner and breeder categories.

Forever Grand is Tiller's best shot

Tiller's finalists are Winter Garden, who is up for 3-year-old filly honors; Brass in Pocket, an older filly-mare candidate; and Forever Grand, who is on the short lists for older male and champion sprinter.

"I think my best shot is sprinter," said Tiller. "Everything else is going to be a photo finish."

Winter Garden proved to be a superior sprinter and scored over older fillies and mares on four occasions. But she is up against two serious contenders: Too Late Now, winner of the Woodbine Oaks and Selene here, and Dancewithavixen, who dominated her division and also defeated her elders at Hastings.

Raylene, another worthy candidate, defeated males in Alberta's Canadian Derby and split two decisions with Dancewithavixen in British Columbia. She did not make the finals but helped scatter the vote.

Brass in Pocket also had most of her success in sprints, although she closed out her campaign with a score at 1 1/16 miles over Ontario-sired opposition for her fifth stakes win of the campaign.

One for Rose, however, developed into a very talented two-turn performer this year and her romp in the Grade 3 Maple Leaf could carry a lot of weight with the voters.

"My biggest disappointment is going to be if Brass in Pocket doesn't win older mare," said Tiller.

Forever Grand, in the sprint category, may seem the most solid of the Tiller bunch but faces a potential stumbling block in Soaring Free. Soaring Free blossomed as a turf runner but won his only two ventures over the main track, in allowance company this spring.

In the older male category, Forever Grand's chances are difficult to gauge, but there is no standout and there is a precedent for sprinters being rewarded in the division. As recently as last year, Wake at Noon parlayed his sprint form into additional titles in the older horse and Canadian Horse of the Year categories.

Tiller does not expect to go 5-for-5 at the awards ceremony but admits that he would be even more shocked if he went home empty-handed.

"I think if we won none, we'd probably need an ambulance," said Tiller. "I hope they've got a big stretcher for me. But, the sun would still come up the next morning."

Lucky Molar tries for rare repeat

It's difficult to repeat in the Valedictory Stakes, the 1 3/4-mile race that is a traditional closing-day feature in Ontario.

The last horse to pull off the Valedictory double was Knight's Turn, in 1979-1980.

The latest to try, and fail, was A Fleets Dancer, who romped in the 2000 renewal of the Valedictory but wound up second as the 2-5 choice the following year.

While last year's Valedictory winner, Lucky Molar, is back for another crack at the longest stakes race of the meeting, he has his work cut out for him.

Owned by Richard Englander, Lucky Molar was trained here by Mike Wright Jr. when he upset last year's Valedictory, but he began his current campaign with Jeff Mullins in California before being transferred to Scott Hansen and then Allen Iwinski in the Eastern U.S.

Lucky Molar has cheapened up considerably along the way, with his only win coming for a $10,000 claiming price and his latest effort a third for $16,000.

At age 8, Lucky Molar could be getting too long in the tooth to compete at this level. But in a season that has had its share of surprises, he could be a fitting valedictorian.