11/05/2003 1:00AM

A look at leading Sovereign turf candidates


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - While the events of the next two weekends could have an impact on several Sovereign Award divisions, the turf categories are another story.

The turf season at Woodbine went out with a whimper last Sunday, with the Labeeb and River Memories stakes being moved to the main track.

And, with almost all of the Sovereign Award turf candidates done racing for the season, there will be no change in the hierarchy prior to the Nov. 16 cutoff for voting purposes.

To be eligible for consideration horses must have made at least three starts in Canada by that date, during the current season. Voters will be asked to list their top three choices in each category, by order of preference.

The top two turf races for males were won by one-shot shippers, with Phoenix Reach coming from England to capture the Canadian International and California-based Touch of the Blues taking the Atto Mile.

Volga won the E.P. Taylor, the premier grass race for fillies and mares, after finishing second in the Canadian in her only other local appearance.

That leaves the Sovereign turf spoils up for grabs among the locals, and the males in particular are a worthy group.

Perfect Soul and Soaring Free both made their last start of the season in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita, finishing ninth and fifth, respectively.

The two had met here for the first time in the Grade 1 Atto Mile, where Perfect Soul finished third and Soaring Free second. But in their next encounter, the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, Perfect Soul turned the tables by recording his biggest career victory while Soaring Free checked in fourth.

Other highlights of Perfect Soul's campaign included a close fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Arlington Million at 1 1/4 miles and a victory here in the Grade 2 King Edward at 1 1/8 miles.

Perfect Soul, an Irish-bred 5-year-old horse owned and bred by Charles Fipke and trained by Roger Attfield, now is at Payson Park in Florida, freshening up for his 2004 campaign. In eight races this season, he compiled a record of 3-2-1 with earnings of $856,195.

Soaring Free, a 4-year-old gelding owned and bred by Sam-Son Farm and trained by Mark Frostad, tried turf for the first time here this summer and reeled off three consecutive wins in the Grade 2 Nearctic at six furlongs, the Ontario Jockey Club at seven furlongs, and the Grade 3 Play the King at seven furlongs.

Currently at Woodbine, Soaring Free will spend the winter in Florida after compiling a record of 5-2-0 and $699,200 in earnings from his eight starts this year.

Strut the Stage, also owned by Sam-Son and trained by Frostad, is the other probable finalist despite being sidelined by an unspecified injury after finishing fourth as the odds-on choice in the Grade 2 Sky Classic here Sept. 28.

Although he started just four times this season, Strut the Stage banked $485,085 and split his two meetings with Perfect Soul, finishing second in the King Edward but beating runner-up Perfect Soul in the 1 3/8-mile Chinese Cultural Centre.

Strut the Stage, a Kentucky-bred 5-year-old horse who is slated to return next year, also won the Grade 2 Niagara at 1 1/2 miles.

Another horse likely to attract some support in the category is Bowman Mill, a Kentucky-bred 5-year-old owned by Dr. John Chandler and trained in Maryland by Michael Dickinson.

Bowman Mill shipped in to Woodbine on three separate occasions, finishing fourth in the Niagara, winning the 1 3/8-mile Sky Classic, and ending a good fourth in the 1 1/2-mile Canadian International.

It looks like Inish Glora vs. Heyahohowdy

Inish Glora, who defeated Volga in the Grade 2 Canadian Handicap, is the leading candidate for female turf honors.

Owned by Bob Costigan and trained by Mac Benson, Inish Glora earlier won the 1 1/16-mile Victoriana, an Ontario Sire Stakes in which Heyahohowdy finished second.

Heyahohowdy, trained by Abraham Katryan and owned by the Kelynack Racing Stable of Glenn Harvey, turned the tables on Inish Glora in their next encounter, winning the 1 1/8-mile Belle Geste for Canadian-breds, and then the 1 1/2-mile Flaming Page.

Inish Glora and Heyahohowdy resumed their rivalry in the 1 1/4-mile E.P. Taylor, where they dueled for the early lead before faltering to finish seventh and ninth, respectively, in the field of 10. Both Benson and Katryan believed their horses were compromised there by the soft going.

Inish Glora, a 5-year-old Ontario-bred, earned $359,667 while compiling a record of 3-1-1 from six starts.

"She'll go to Florida for the winter, and hopefully come out strong next year," said Benson.

Heyahohowdy made what probably will be her final appearance of the year in the River Memories, finishing a distant last of eight in the sloppy going.

A 4-year-old Ontario-bred, Heyahohowdy banked $161,995 this year on a record of 2-1-0 from seven outings.

"We'll keep her here [in Ontario] for the winter," said Katryan. "I think she's going to be a nice turf horse next year."

Chopinina, the defending champion in the division, has started four times this year, winning the Grade 3 Royal North at six furlongs and then finishing a decent fifth when facing males in the Atto Mile.

Owned by Knob Hill Stable and trained by Alec Fehr, Chopinina is slated to run in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30.

But by then the 2003 Sovereign Award balloting will be history, and a notable performance by Chopinina would go unrewarded.