05/28/2002 11:00PM

Maiden joins road to the Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Aspen Ridge, a maiden after two starts, certainly won't command much attention heading into Saturday's Plate Trial at Woodbine.

But that's unlikely to faze Jim Cheadle, private trainer for the Arosa Farm of Jurgen Schemmer, who is hoping Aspen Ridge can earn a shot at the $1 million Queen's Plate here June 23.

Last June, Cheadle sent out Asia, who not only was a maiden but a filly to boot, to finish fourth in the Queen's Plate at 80-1. Two years earlier the trainer saddled the filly Gandria for a second-place Plate finish at 67-1.

Aspen Ridge, a homebred by Wild Again out of Green Noble, is a half-brother to Noble Strike and Sir Frederick, both of whom have placed in stakes here.

"I loved the horse from the beginning," said Cheadle. "I wanted to take my time with him."

Aspen Ridge did not see action at 2, although Cheadle had hoped to run the colt during the last week of the season.

"We had the race picked out," said the trainer, "and then he came up full of mucus on me, so I had to send him home. I wasn't going to run him like that, just to get a race into him."

Cheadle already was looking ahead to bigger things when he entered Aspen Ridge at 1 1/16 miles for his first lifetime start here April 27.

"Actually I was going to go into a seven-eighths race, which I had him probably physically ready to do," said the trainer.

"My concern was, thinking I have a possible Plate horse, not to try and put that early burst of speed into him. I wanted him to stay relaxed.

"I know he's going to be stalking; he's not going to be one to come from way out of it. It's just his nature; he's just too competitive in around horses."

Aspen Ridge ran according to plan in his opener when finishing second to Tepu Sultan, a Kentucky-bred who came back to place third in an allowance open to older horses, a race won by Plate Trial entrant Classic Mike.

"He ran above my expectations in his first race because to be honest, I think I needed about two more works to get him dead-tight to go that far," said Cheadle. He noted that third-place finisher Affirmed Feeling had also run third here in last fall's Coronation Futurity and is a Plate hopeful.

Aspen Ridge's second appearance was not as positive, however, as the colt was up close early but tired to finish ninth of 13 under rider Constant Montpellier over 1 1/16 miles of sloppy going.

"Connie said he broke out of the gate nice, but with the thunder of the slop he just grabbed ahold of the bridle and pulled him up to horses," said Cheadle.

"And he tried clipping heels about three times in the race, and Connie couldn't find a hole to get him through. In that situation he was standing up on the horse, choking him off, and he did bleed. So, he'll be running in the Plate Trial on Lasix."

Aspen Ridge tuned up for the Trial last Sunday with five furlongs in 59 seconds, his third black-letter move this spring.

"Every time he's 'bulleted' it's been in company," said Cheadle, "and he's done it easily."

A pair preparing for turf

Noble Strike, a 4-year-old who finished second in the Wonder Where over 1 1/4 miles of grass and third in the Jammed Lovely over seven furlongs on the main track last year, is gearing up for her seasonal bow.

So is Asia, who went on to finish fourth in Fort Erie's Prince of Wales and third in the Breeders' to complete a perfect attendance record in the Canadian Triple Crown but remains a maiden entering her 4-year-old campaign.

"They both had a nice break," said Cheadle. "They're about six to seven weeks away from being dead-ready. The summertime, with the grass races, is what I've been trying to aim them for."

Belmont race best for Sweetest Thing

Sweetest Thing, Canada's champion turf filly last year, breezed four furlongs in 48.20 seconds under jockey Jim McAleney on the turf training course here Wednesday and was slated to ship out for Belmont and Saturday's Sheepshead Bay at 1 3/8 miles on turf.

A 4-year-old owned by Mickey Canino, Bill Werner, and trainer Roger Attfield, Sweetest Thing also was nominated to the Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf race here Sunday.

Both the Sheepshead Bay and Nassau offer Grade 2 status and are roughly equivalent in value, with the Sheepshead Bay worth $150,000 U.S. and the Nassau $250,000 Canadian.

But Sweetest Thing is coming off a victory in Keeneland's Bewitch, over 1 1/2 miles of turf, and the distance factor weighted most heavily with Attfield.

"I'd be taking a chance, trying to shorten her back up here," said the trainer. "I know how she's going to run in New York, going a mile and three-eighths, so I think I'd better do that."

El Soprano will focus on grass

El Soprano, winner of the Grade 2 Summer over a mile of grass here last year, drilled five furlongs on the turf Wednesday in 1:00.60 while going in company with Mark One, a maiden who was clocked in identical time.

Both El Soprano and Mark One are 3-year-olds owned by Stronach Stable and trained by Attfield.

El Soprano, who also missed by a nose to the filly, Atlantic Fury, here in the Cup and Saucer over 1 1/16 miles of grass, remains eligible for the Queen's Plate but is an unlikely participant.

The colt had closed out his first campaign, during which he was trained by Kevin Attard, with a distant last-place finish in the Oct. 28 Coronation Futurity over 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

"We really feel his action is totally different on dirt," said Attfield, "and I don't see doing something wrong by the horse just because there's a big purse out there. He showed last year he's a pretty useful horse on turf, and we could have a big year with him."