06/08/2006 11:00PM

Kimchi bears provincial flag

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Last year, Gold Strike became the first Manitoba-bred to win the Woodbine Oaks.

Trainer Mark Casse obviously is hoping that particular piece of history can repeat itself here Sunday when he saddles the Manitoba-bred Kimchi for the $500,000, 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks.

Kimchi, a $70,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton October yearling sale, races for the Seasoft Stable of Sal and Colleen Simeone.

"I told Sal and Colleen from the beginning that I thought she was an Oaks filly," said Casse. "Any time you get a Canadian-bred filly that has a lot of ability, you've always got to think about the Oaks.

"Plus, I thought her pedigree always suggested her being able to go that far," added Casse, noting that Kimchi is a half-sister to King of Jazz, runner-up in last year's Queen's Plate.

After finishing a good third in her seven-furlong debut here last Sept. 24, Kimchi came back four weeks later to make her stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth.

"I thought she should have won the Princess Elizabeth," said Casse, who had watched Kimchi finish second, 1 1/4 lengths behind the loose-on-the-lead Sugar Swirl. "She had just a terrible trip."

Kimchi wound up her first campaign with a 6 1/4-length allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles, then wintered in Ocala before coming back to Woodbine this spring.

Since then, however, Kimchi's path to the Woodbine Oaks has not been smooth.

"I initially wanted to run her in a seven-furlong race, and it didn't go," said Casse. "We had to get a race into her, and I had to run her at three-quarters of a mile, which I really didn't want to do."

Kimchi raced evenly, finishing fourth in that first-level allowance on April 15, but then was bothered by a bad case of hives that led to her missing some training.

That lost time was a major concern to Casse when Kimchi was entered back in a first-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles here May 13.

"We were really, really on the fence about even running her," said Casse. "We went in there looking to win, but we were even more just trying to get a race into her.

"That last quarter-mile, I think that's where her missing that training showed up. I think that's why she flattened out a little bit."

Kimchi stalked the pace and hit the front on the far turn, but was outkicked by fellow Woodbine Oaks contestant Sweet Breanna and was beaten 5 1/4 lengths as the second-place finisher under regular rider Patrick Husbands.

"Our filly was very sharp," said Casse. "We're going to take the blinkers off her for the Oaks. She'll want some pace to run at - she'll be stalking."

Kimchi has turned in two solid workouts since that last start, including five furlongs in 1:00.20 under Husbands, going in company with stakes-placed older stablemate Skippingall Theway, who finished in 1:00.40.

"Patrick broke off about three lengths behind Skippingall Theway," said Casse. "I was a little worried, because Skippingall Theway is a very good work horse, that Kimchi wouldn't be able to catch up.

"But she actually caught her at the quarter pole, and just galloped the last quarter-mile next to her, while Skippingall Theway was in an all-out drive."

Familiar, successful figures return

Several participants in this year's Woodbine Oaks have enjoyed previous success in the race.

Sam-Son Farm, winner of seven previous Oaks, will be represented by Strike Softly. Kinghaven Farm will be looking for its fourth Oaks score with Seductively, and Stronach Stable its second with Wedded Woman.

Mark Frostad, who will saddle Strike Softly, has trained the three most recent Oaks winners for Sam-Son.

Robert Landry, who rides Like a Gem for Hillsbrook Farm and trainer Danny Vella, has won the Woodbine Oaks on three occasions. Todd Kabel, who pilots Strike Softly, has ridden a pair of Woodbine Oaks winners.

Steven Bahen, whose mount is London Snow, and Jim McAleney, who rides Executive Flight, have each won the Oaks once before.

Seaside Retreat works for Colonial Cup

Seaside Retreat, whose last start was a 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 on the turf training track here Friday.

A Kentucky-bred colt owned by Will Farish Jr. and trained by Casse, Seaside Retreat is slated to make his next appearance in the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup, a 1 3/16-mile race for 3-year-olds at Colonial Downs on June 24.

Regular rider Patrick Husbands was aboard Seaside Retreat for Friday's drill and has the call for the Turf Cup.

"It was a good breeze," said Casse. "We're still on schedule."

Tough task for High Button Shoes

High Button Shoes, winner of the Grade 3 Hendrie in her last start here for Sam-Son and Frostad, checked into Belmont late Thursday evening for Sunday's Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap.

The $150,000 Vagrancy is a 6 1/2-furlong race for fillies and mares, and with her regular rider Kabel otherwise engaged at Woodbine on Sunday, Eibar Coa has picked up the mount on High Button Shoes

"It's a tough race," said Frostad. "She's been super this year, so we thought we'd give her a shot down there. There was nothing for her here."

High Button Shoes, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old, had finished a very game second when opening up her campaign here in the Grade 3, six-furlong Whimsical prior to capturing the 6 1/2-furlong Hendrie.

LeBlanc to be given Gomez award

John LeBlanc will be presented with the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award here Sunday, in a ceremony scheduled for the E.P. Taylor turf course following the second race.

LeBlanc, 66, retired from race-riding in 1990 and is best remembered as the rider of champion La Prevoyante.

The Gomez Memorial Award is for a jockey who is Canadian-born, Canadian-raised, or has ridden regularly in Canada for more than five years and has made significant contributions to the sport.

Avelino Gomez died following a spill during the 1980 Canadian Oaks.

* While Gold Strike went from winning the Woodbine Oaks to finishing third in the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate last summer, none of this year's Woodbine Oaks entrants is eligible for the $1 million Queen's Plate on June 25.