06/14/2001 12:00AM

Lover of horses finds his metier

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Philip Sutton, who is in his second year of training at Fort Erie, was 9 years old when he chose the path he would follow in life. From a book of names he discovered that Philip meant "lover of horses."

Born a Sagittarian in Montreal, Dec. 11, 1966 - the Year of the Horse - it seemed natural for him to have his parents take him to a riding school. The parents, who emigrated from England in 1965, had never before had anything to do with horses.

A year later Sutton, who grew up in the Oakville-Milton area, just west of Toronto, was an Ontario champion in his age category in western tack. While in high school he worked summers at the broodmare farm of Canadian racing giant, Sam-Son Farms.

Hooked on horses, Sutton passed on going to college and went to work for Bill Wellwood, a high-profile trainer and driver of Standardbreds. "He was very good, and I learned a lot," said Sutton about Wellwood and that year-plus stint. "Then I went to England for a year and learned to gallop. I worked at Epsom and Malton."

Back in Canada, Sutton went to work for Mac Benson, who has trained two Queen's Plate winners. Recruitment to work in Japan followed. "I love to travel," said Sutton. "I had heard interesting things about [Japan] and I was curious. And the pay was big. I worked for a big owner and trainer, Nakumara. He bought Arcangues who won the Breeders' Cup Classic [in 1993]." Sutton returned after a year and worked as an assistant for trainer Sandy McPherson at Woodbine.

A year later it was good-bye once again to Canada. This time it was to the U.S. and a six-month stint with John Ward, who won this year's Kentucky Derby with Monarchos. "I groomed at first. Then rode and galloped. I ended up running one of his sheds - his 2-year-olds barn."

Next he was wooed by Delaware trainer Michael Matz who was a gold medalist for the U.S. with jumpers. A year, 1999, was spent in his barn. Then, last year, Sutton was on his own.

"I don't really like the city," he said. "I happen to like Fort Erie very much. My goal is to be the best I can and to do the best I can do. My traveling days are over. I have roots now- I'm married and my wife is my assistant. We have a daughter." His wife is former Fort Erie jockey Adrienne Heslop.

Sutton scored six times from his 32 saddlings at Fort Erie for a 19 percent win average in his rookie year. He has four runners at the track, presently, two for himself (Hollydene Stable) and two for owner John Atto.

He's 0 for 5 heading into Sunday's card where his Botanic Man will try the grass. The 3-year-old Botanic Man, a winner of one of his seven starts, has been dropped into the claiming ranks for the first time. Sutton will also saddle the maiden Mrs. Fisher for Atto, whose insurance company sponsors the $1 million Atto Mile at Woodbine.

* Trainer Mike DePaulo sent out Overheath Stable's Pete's Fancy to post a mild upset in the Adena Springs Matchmaker Stakes on Tuesday. The five-furlong turf dash for $60,000 added was Fort Erie's first stakes race of the year, and was Pete's Fancy first start of the year. She paid $8 to win.

Audre Cappuccitti's favored three-horse entry of Danzing Silver, Bucquista, and El Prado Essence finished fourth, sixth, and seventh.