03/29/2002 12:00AM

Meet Canada's Derby hopeful


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - In most years, dreaming of the Queen's Plate would be enough for trainer John Ross and owners Bud and Jackie Reynolds, of Jam Jar Racing Stable.

But this year, Ross and his longtime clients hope not only to make the Plate, with Ontario-bred Shaws Creek their most likely candidate, but also to have a shot at getting to the Kentucky Derby with the Kentucky-bred Tails of the Crypt.

After closing out his first campaign last year with a victory here in the 1 1/16-mile Display, Tails of the Crypt went south to his trainer's off-season headquarters at Classic Mile Farm in Ocala, Fla., with no particular plans for racing over the winter.

And now, with little fanfare, Tails of the Crypt has moved to the fringes of the Derby picture, having finished second in both the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby in two trips to Tampa Bay Downs this winter.

"He was feeling good all winter long," said Ross, "and there was a nice little handy stake called the Sam Davis. He needed the race badly, and he ran a huge race.

"[Jockey Emile] Ramsammy was thrilled. He said there's no quit in the horse, and he got in trouble in the race too. He got banged on the backside pretty bad.

"I felt he ran so good I thought I'd give him a shot in the Tampa Bay [Derby], and it looks like the horse is just coming more forward. They ran that mile and a sixteenth in good time, and the horse kept galloping out strong."

So while Ross and the bulk of his Classic Mile stock arrived this week at Woodbine, where the trainer has 29 stalls, Tails of the Crypt remained in Florida along with three 2-year-olds.

And Tails of the Crypt soon will be on his way to Kentucky, where his target will be Keeneland's Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes over 1 1/16 miles April 20.

"If he runs good there, he's not too far from Churchill, and we'll think about the Derby," Ross said.

"I think it's a good game plan for him. Hopefully it's a tidy enough field, and we can look good, and the horse can keep getting confidence."

Shaws Creek in Queen's Plate prep

Meanwhile, on the home front, Ross will be sending out Shaws Creek in Sunday's six-furlong Achievement Handicap. The Achievement is the first local stakes prep for the Queen's Plate, a $1 million, 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds here June 23.

Shaws Creek, an Ontario-bred, started four times at 2, winning the 5 1/2-furlong Clarendon and finishing second to Rare Friends - who went on to be voted the champion of his division and also is running on Sunday's card - in the six-furlong Vandal. Rare Friends finished a well-beaten fourth in the seven-furlong Simcoe before being put away for the season in September, and later heading south to Classic Mile.

"He had a great winter," Ross said. "I'd like to get him stretching out. With his pedigree, and he's a relaxed kind of horse, he looks like he could go long.

"But you know these races [like the Achievement], if you're going to be in the Plate, you've got to get going. It may just set up [for him], with all that speed up front. Maybe he might be sitting, and come from out of it."

At least some of the speed is likely to be provided by Wild Whiskey, a Whiskey Wisdom colt, trained by Ross.

Wild Whiskey, who also is Queen's Plate eligible, started only once at 2, but turned heads when he carved out some rapid fractions en route to a one-length victory at six furlongs.

"He trained great this winter," said Ross, who also had Wild Whiskey at Classic Mile. "He's matured and developed nicely; I'm expecting some good things from him."

Ross, however, is uncertain about Wild Whiskey's prospects at longer distances, noting the colt's family includes talented sprinters such as Love Grows and Torrid Affair.

"My first reaction to his first race was he won nicely, but he was 'pinchy' on the one shin and he kind of shortened up," said the trainer. "It remains to be seen how far he'll want to go.

"We're going to try and see if we can get him relaxed a little bit, but he's like a raging bull when he comes out of that gate."

Wild Whiskey and Shaws Creek worked three furlongs in company from the gate on the training track Wednesday. Wild Whiskey went in 36.40, Shaws Creek in 36.80.