09/15/2005 12:00AM

Late starter makes run for training title


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Lyle Morden, who is having a career year, lost a little ground last week in his quest to wrestle the lead from Nick Gonzalez in the trainer standings at Fort Erie.

Morden, better known as Butch by racetrackers, was one win out of first place at the start of the last racing week. As racing resumes Saturday, Morden, with 32 victories, trails Gonzalez by three wins.

Morden, 48, got a rather late start at the races. A Welland, Ontario, native successful in business, he became a horse owner in 1989.

"I bought a couple, and as an owner I quickly wanted to train," said Morden. "I hurried up with it and got into the game full time. I left business for what I loved."

Tutored by trainers Tony Alderson and the late Donny Drake, Morden got his license in 1991.

"I've always been a small guy," said Morden, who has 22 horses in his stable. "We had a lot of low years, but enough to survive and to raise our family. There were always a few horses in our barn."

Morden's profile heightened in 2003, when he saddled 18 winners from 99 starters. Last year, during the shortened season caused by the track's renovation, Morden scored 16 times for a gaudy win rate of 30 percent. This year, he is proud of his in-the-money percentage of 64.

Morden's star performer in recent times is Ruff Tuff Stuff. A 7-year-old gelding, he had a string of six straight first-place finishes, five of them last year and one to begin this season. In one of the races, he was disqualified and placed third.

Roman Romance almost through racing

Roman Romance, a 7-year-old mare in the John Simms barn who has won nine races and earned $535,382, is on the verge of being retired.

The winner of the Longshots OTB Cup here Aug. 28, Roman Romance finished last in the Grade 3 Seaway Stakes at Woodbine last Saturday.

"I'm going to run her once more or retire her," said Simms.

Simms intends to sell Roman Romance. It's too late to enter Roman Romance in the November sale at Keeneland, Simms said, but, he added, she "definitely she will be in the January sale if a deal isn't struck before."

"She's never been a problem," he said. "She's like the Rock of Gibraltar. And now she's getting up in age."

Roman Romance is owned by the Payer family of Dennis Payer and his sons Dean and Michael and by Tony De Luca.

Ando back in action

Apprentice Happy Ando, who was injured on Tuesday, will be riding eight of the nine races on Saturday, reports his agent, Bill Lane.

Ando booked off of his mounts on Tuesday after he was thrown from a horse and stepped on by a following runner. X-rays showed no breaks.

"Happy had a sore back and a sore knee, but he has recovered fully," said Lane. "He attributes that to drinking tons of milk while growing up."

Ando had a big day on Labor Day. He rode Kirlan to victory in the Centre Stage Anne and then was second aboard Sandspit in the Puss N Boots. The victory with Kirlan was the rider's first stakes score.

* Jockey Francine Villeneuve will return to action on Oct. 1. Villeneuve dislocated her shoulder in a spill at the end of July.