07/03/2001 11:00PM

Long-awaited win within reach for Howard


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Neil Howard has come close, but has never managed to grab the brass ring here at Woodbine.

On Saturday, Howard attempts to win his first race here when Good Game goes in the Grade 3 Dance Smartly, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares that offers a purse of $171,300.

The Kentucky-based Howard had six starters here during the 1990's, with a third-place finish by Parade Ground in the 1998 Canadian International his most profitable result.

Parade Ground, sent off as the third choice in the Canadian International at 5-1, was beaten 2 1/2 lengths by winner Royal Anthem but just a half-length by runner-up Chief Bearhart.

The Howard-trained Dove Hunt finished second in both the 1993 Summer as the 3-2 favorite and in the 1996 Sky Classic as the 2-1 second choice. Earlier in his 1996 campaign, he finished fourth here as the 5-2 second choice in the Connaught Cup.

Houston Connection was third for Howard as the 7-5 favorite in the 1994 Summer, while Jazz Club could manage only third as the 3-5 choice in the 1999 Eclipse.

Good Game, a 4-year-old turf specialist, won two stakes last year. But she lost her first three starts of this year, all stakes in Kentucky, with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Mint Julep at Churchill Downs her best outing.

But Good Game comes into the Dance Smartly off a confidence-boosting victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance over yielding going at Churchill, leading throughout to score by 3 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.

"There were some pretty decent fillies in there, but it was a fairly easy race on her," said Tony Hughes, assistant to Howard, who arrived at Woodbine along with Good Game on Wednesday morning. "She went to the front, but she just kind of found herself there. It wasn't exactly planned.

"She came out of the race good, so we've come up to see what we can do here."

Good Game, a co-highweight at 119 pounds, drew post 6 and will face 10 rivals in the Dance Smartly. Local rider Gary Boulanger has picked up the mount,

The Dance Smartly attracted a second invader in Badouizm, a 5-year-old mare who is owned by Epona Farm and trained by Richard Lundy.

Badouizm finished three-quarters of a length behind Good Game in fourth in the Mint Julep and also came back to score impressively in an allowance race. Frank Lovato Jr. retains the mount on Badouizm, who will break from post 4.

Rounding out the field for the Dance Smartly, in post order, are Only to You, Free Vacation, Bristol Pistol, Dark Ending, Alexis, Nymphenburg, Byzantine, Except for Wanda, and Diadella.

Free Vacation, who was Canada's champion turf mare in 1999 but has won just one of 14 starts in her two subsequent campaigns, worked seven furlongs in 1:27.40 on the turf training track here last Sunday.

Owned by her trainer, Roger Attfield, in partnership with Mickey Canino and Bill Werner, Free Vacation will be making her sixth start of the year but her first this year at Woodbine.

"She's been disappointing, but she always seems to be running on a bad racetrack out of town," said Attfield. "Hopefully, we'll get her back on form."

The Dance Smartly will be included in Woodbine Post Time on Sportsnet, a live two-hour telecast that will air nationally beginning at 2 p.m.

There also will be an edition of the show on Friday, airing regionally on Sportsnet from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Devil Valentine feeling better

Devil Valentine, who was sidelined by stomach ulcers while being pointing for the Queen's Plate, is back in training at Woodbine.

"We haven't come up with a game plan yet for him," said David Bell, who trains Devil Valentine for Sandra and Gerry Gibbs.

"We just had him turned out about three weeks, but we had him galloping at the farm. He shouldn't be too far away" from a race.

Devil Valentine had been considered a leading candidate for the Plate after finishing second in just his second career start here in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity and then winning the 1 1/16-mile Kingarvie in his final start at 2.

But he was soundly beaten this spring in both the Queenston and Marine before an examination revealed the stomach ulcers, which Bell described as "very bad."