06/26/2006 11:00PM

Marco Be Good has found his stride

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Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Trainer John Ross did not have a Queen's Plate horse, but Marco Be Good scored for him in the Grade 3 Highlander on the undercard.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer John Ross didn't get a chance to participate in the Queen's Plate here at Woodbine Sunday after Well Whoopdeedoo, a promising Canadian-bred 3-year-old, wound up on the shelf. But Ross still experienced his best Queen's Plate Day ever as he registered a major upset in the $200,800 Highlander with Marco Be Good.

Marco Be Good, a 4-year-old gelding owned and bred by Dom Romeo, had failed to finish in the top three in three previous career stakes appearances, all in Ontario-sired company. By last fall, Marco Be Good had dipped into the $40,000 conditioned claiming ranks, where he still failed to click in three tries.

But Marco Be Good suddenly took a new lease on life this spring, ending a bang-up second in his seasonal debut in a first-level allowance and then winning his first two allowance conditions before venturing into the big leagues for the Highlander.

"He's kind of a different horse this year," said Ross. "He's a little more professional. He's relaxing. He's maturing.

"He's happy, and confident - things have just come together. And when they're full of confidence, coming off wins - I knew the horse had never been better."

Marco Be Good was moving to the grass for the Highlander, however, and still had plenty to prove. His previous turf outings, both in stakes, had resulted in fringe awards on yielding and soft surfaces.

"I wanted to try him on firm turf," said Ross. "He'd had a couple of workouts on turf earlier this month, and Justin Stein and myself were impressed with the way he looks and strides out."

Marco Be Good, now a Grade 3 winner after capturing the Highlander by a half-length, also was giving Stein his first stakes win at Woodbine and his biggest career score.

Stein, an apprentice who has become one of the go-to riders for the Ross barn this year, was not allowed to claim his five-pound weight allowance in the Highlander.

Marco Be Good, meanwhile, may get a bit of a breather while Ross plans his next voyage.

"I think he's a little better on turf," said Ross. "I think he proved that Sunday. He was only one tick off the course record.

"But he's certainly not shabby on dirt, either. He's versatile; that's a great way to have it."

Well Whoopdeedoo will return to track soon

Well Whoopdeedoo, an Ontario-foaled colt owned by the Jam Jar Racing Stable of Bud and Jackie Reynolds, saw action just once at 2, finishing second under jockey Robert Landry in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special here Nov. 26.

"I was looking forward to this year," said Ross. "He was training well, and I took him to Florida. Landry was getting on him down there; he was going great."

Then, a week before his scheduled return to Canada, Well Whoopdeedoo came down with a case of colic. After returning here and working strongly for his seasonal debut, Well Whoopdeedoo suffered a mishap in his stall and had to be scratched from a scheduled appearance on May 13.

"He pulled a muscle," said Ross. "I had to give him a month off. He went to the farm; he'll be coming back in soon."

Win propels Jambalaya to Northern Dancer

Jambalaya and Seaside Retreat were the other big winners on the Queen's Plate undercard as both captured $100,000 overnight turf stakes.

Jambalaya, an Ontario-bred 4-year-old gelding trained by Catherine Day Phillips and ridden by Jono Jones, registered his first win of the season in the 1 1/2-mile Singspiel.

"He's coming into form," said Day Phillips, who had watched Jambalaya finish third and fourth over shorter distances in his first two outings here this year. "He's just so rateable, so rideable, that he has an advantage going longer distances. He can be wherever Jono wants to put him."

Day Phillips said the Singspiel victory gave Jambalaya a needed shot of confidence as he heads toward the July 23 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf, a Grade 2, $700,000 race at 1 1/2 miles.

"He's on target," said Day Phillips.

Seaside Retreat, a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old colt trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Patrick Husbands, was making his sixth start of the year while coming off a 10th-place finish in the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

With his win in the one-mile Charlie Barley, Seaside Retreat now is a stakes winner on both turf and dirt. He took the 1 1/16-mile Display on the main track here last year.

Arravale ships out for American Oaks

Arravale, a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old filly owned by Bob Costigan and trained here by Mac Benson, left Woodbine on Tuesday morning for her engagement in Sunday's American Oaks Invitational at Hollywood Park.

The American Oaks is a Grade 1, $750,000 race for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/4 miles on the turf.

Arravale has started once this season, winning the 6 1/2-furlong Alywow to remain undefeated in three career turf outings.

Last year, Arravale debuted with a maiden win at seven furlongs and then took the Grade 3 Natalma at one mile before concluding her campaign with a ninth-place finish in the Grade 3 Mazarine on the main track.

Arravale, who worked a mile in 1:38 on the training turf course here last Friday, will be ridden by Corey Nakatani.