09/13/2005 11:00PM

Leroidesanimaux can buck an Atto trend


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Luck was on trainer Bobby Frankel's side when he captured the Atto Mile in 2000 with 10-1 shot Riviera.

Riviera held up the start for several minutes that day while the assistant starters tried to coax him into post 13. The other runners had to sit chilly in the gate during the delay, and when the gate finally sprung, English invader Arkadian Hero dwelt and gave the rest of the field about an eight-length head-start. Arkadian Hero rallied powerfully, but his bid fell a nose shy of Riviera, who had a perfect trip under John Velazquez.

Frankel might not need much luck in Sunday's edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Atto at Wood-bine, because he is running favored Leroidesanimaux, who will be seeking his eighth straight victory. He is returning to action three weeks after a front-running score in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, in which he set a course record for 1 1/16 miles.

No horse exiting a race at Saratoga has won the Atto, but several have fared well. Last year, Royal Regalia finished third in both the Fourstardave at Saratoga and the Atto. Surging River was a surprising fourth in that same Atto after finishing seventh in the one-mile Troy Stakes at Saratoga.

Royal Regalia, trained by Justin Nixon for Stronach Stable, could be the second choice in this year's race. He set the one-mile course record here last summer (1:31.84) and has run only once this year, which was a gate-to-wire win in a July 29 allowance. Expect him to set the pace, with Leroidesanimaux in close proximity.

Four California shippers have finished first in the eight runnings of the Atto, if you include the 1999 edition, in which Hawksley Hill was disqualified from first because his rider's whip struck a rival in the stretch. There are two California invaders expected for this year's probable field - King of Happiness and A to the Z.

King of Happiness is coming off a 2 1/2-month layoff for trainer Neil Drysdale, who won the 1998 Atto with the temperamental Labeeb following a 13-week break. Drysdale also sent out Hawksley Hill, along with 2003 Atto winner Touch of the Blues.

A to the Z was beaten just a half-length by Leroidesanimaux last November when second in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap at Hollywood. Trainer Paula Capestro shipped him to Woodbine three weeks ago to give him the opportunity to get used to the expansive E.P. Taylor turf course.

Woodbine-based runners have won the Atto three times; that includes Quiet Resolve in 1999, who was placed first after the disqualification of Hawksley Hill. The others were Soaring Free in 2004 and Numerous Times in 2001.

The major Woodbine prep is the Play the King Handicap, but only one horse from 15 starters has hit the board in the Atto after competing in that seven-furlong sprint. That runner, Soaring Free, was victorious in the 2003 Play the King before running second in the Atto. He won both races last year.

Vanderlin, Le Cinquieme Essai, and Awesome Action, who were first, second, and seventh, respectively, in this year's Grade 2 Play the King, are all expected to be in the Atto lineup. Of them, perhaps the reliable Le Cinquieme Essai has the best chance, since he was beaten just a head in the race by the European invader Vanderlin, who could bounce in his second start on this side of the pond.

King of Happiness and Royal Regalia will both try to take the Atto off a vacation, but don't let their absence from recent competition turn you off them. Labeeb and 2002 Atto winner Good Journey both got the job done following a layoff of more than two months.

Stalkers - horses within four lengths of the leader at the half-mile point - have won the Atto twice. Closers were victorious in five runnings. Soaring Free was the only front-running winner.

The average winning Beyer Figure in the Atto is 108, and the average Beyer that the Atto winners received in their final prep for the race is 103.

Leroidesanimaux, widely considered to be North America's leading turf miler, will be tough to overhaul Sunday if he stays in the zone. My longshot possibilities are Le Cinquieme Essai and A to the Z. Local runners Royal Regalia and Sophia's Prince deserve consideration for the bottom of exotics wagers, as does King of Happiness.