04/17/2002 11:00PM

Low-profile trainer gets the big horse

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Far from the hustle and bustle, on the outlying edge of the backstretch, Fancy As quietly checked into trainer Brian Palaniuk's barn here recently after a winter in California with Bob Baffert.

Fancy As was a horse of the year and divisional champion in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba last year, when he won eight of nine starts and $431,941 for Linda Smith and her husband, trainer Red Smith. But Fancy As was outpointed by Win City, Ontario's top 3-year-old male, for the division's Sovereign Award title.

After winding up his campaign at Hastings Park, Fancy As was sent to Baffert and started three times at Santa Anita, finishing third in both the Grade 2 San Fernando and Strub, and seventh in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in his last start March 2.

"Red called me about a month ago, and asked me if I could find a stall for Fancy As," said the 53-year-old Palaniuk, who relocated here from Winnipeg's Assiniboia Downs two years ago. "I knew Red from out west, probably for 30 years."

Although Palaniuk was familiar with the exploits of Fancy As, he had not seen Fancy As in the flesh since the horse raced at Assiniboia Downs as a 2-year-old.

"He's a super guy to be around," said the trainer of Fancy As. "He's nice and quiet - he's an easygoing horse."

Palaniuk hopes that good nature will not extend to the racetrack, as Fancy As could engage in a long-awaited showdown with Win City in the 1 1/16-mile Eclipse Handicap here May 11.

The Dominion Day, a 1 1/4-mile race here July 1, would be another logical target. And since Fancy As is at Woodbine, it seems logical that he will at some point try turf, a surface on which he has yet to race.

In any case, the presence of Fancy As will raise the profile of Palaniuk, who was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and parlayed a childhood love of horses into a career on the racetrack that began at Assiniboia Downs some 30 years ago.

After coming east to spend a year here working as a groom for trainer Glenn Magnusson, Palaniuk returned to Winnipeg and took out his trainer's license in 1970.

"I started out with a couple of my own," said Palaniuk, whose public stable had grown to include some 15 horses by 1974, the year Manitoba horseman Jim Wright took over as the owner of Assiniboia Downs.

Palaniuk trained for the Wright family for 20 years, managing the farm as well as a large on-track outfit that included such stars as One Night Lover and Mr. Macho. But Palaniuk was forced to become a public trainer again after the Manitoba Jockey Club became the new proprietors of Assiniboia Downs late in 1993.

"The Wright stable was downsized, to the extent that I had to go public again," said Palaniuk, who although usually among the leaders at Assiniboia Downs, didn't his first training title there until 1999.

Palaniuk shipped over to Woodbine following the 1999 Assiniboia meeting, and followed the same regimen in 2000. But this time, he decided to stay at Woodbine.

"Assiniboia Downs has been very good to me over the years," said the trainer. "But it's a short meeting, and the money's so good here."

And while Palaniuk has yet to win the number of races here he won at Assiniboia, he has no regrets about the decision.

"I love it here," he said. "I haven't had the greatest start. I only won three races all last summer; that's a long way from what I'm used to.

"But I think I've got better stock this year. It just takes a while. I don't think I want to get large again. I'd like to keep it on a smaller basis, with better-quality horses."

Palaniuk has seven horses here, with one more stabled on a nearby farm and another couple in Florida.

Hot team eyes Woodstock

Considering the way the red-hot combo of trainer Mark Casse, owner Harry T. Mangurian, and jockey Patrick Husbands has been performing, it may be unwise to tune out Davids Expectation here in Saturday's Woodstock.

Davids Expectation, bred in Florida by Mangurian's Mockingbird Farm, will be making his meet bow after running fourth in the six-furlong Ocala Breeders' Sprint Stakes for 3-year-old males March 18.

"The OBS championship race was tougher than the Cowdin," said Casse. Davids Expectation had finished second in the Grade 3 Cowdin at Belmont last October.

Royal Lad, the upset winner over runner-up Warners in the Ocala race, was coming off a third-place finish in Gulfstream's Grade 2 Hutcheson and returned to win an open allowance sprint there April 4.

Warners made his next start last Saturday in Belmont's Grade 3 Bay Shore, finishing second.

"I was really happy with the way Davids Expectation ran in that race," said Casse of the OBS Sprint. "And Patrick loved the way he worked the other day."

Husbands guided Davids Expectation through a five-furlong drill of 1:02 on a good track here April 10.

* Jockey Emile Ramsammy will be at Keeneland Saturday to ride Tails of the Crypt in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes.