11/06/2007 1:00AM

Mesic enjoys breakthrough year

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - Marko Mesic is hardly a stranger to the racetrack, as he owned horses for more than 25 years while operating construction and restaurant businesses.

But the 52-year-old Mesic sold his off-track interests and took out his trainer's license two years ago, and he has established a much higher profile in his new profession this year.

Heading into the final five weeks of the Ontario season, the Mesic barn had won 11 of its 50 races here. Combined with a 4-for-6 mark at Fort Erie, Mesic's winning rate was an impressive 27 percent.

At one point this summer, Mesic sent out seven consecutive winners, the first two at Fort Erie and the balance here at Woodbine.

"This year has been tremendous," Mesic said. "I've got a small barn - only nine horses. I hope to get a couple more races per horse, then call it quits."

Mesic, was born in Croatia and had some early experience with horses, as his father was a large-animal veterinarian. But there was no horse racing in his homeland and it was the sport of soccer that brought Mesic to Canada in 1974. He played three years for Toronto Croatia before a broken leg ended his career.

Shortly after opening up his construction company, Mesic gravitated to the racetrack, and he owned horses through the years with a host of trainers, including Mike Mattine, Ross Armata, Vito Armata, Audre Cappuccitti, Ralph Biamonte, Geoff Walther, and Sandra Dominguez.

"At one point, I had up to 23 or 24 horses, including broodmares," Mesic said. "I used to pinhook a lot with a friend and partner, Paul Sharp."

While he still enjoys pinhooking - buying young horses with the intention of selling them for a profit - much of Mesic's focus now is on the claiming game.

"Sometimes you claim a good one, sometimes a bad one," Mesic said. "That's the way it is."

Mesic's hits have outnumbered the misses. His current stable stars Ballado Dancer and Castle Heights both were acquired by the claiming route.

Ballado Dancer, a 4-year-old gelding who was haltered for $10,000 on June 29, has registered 3 wins in 4 subsequent starts, with the latest coming in a second-level optional claimer where he did not run for the price.

"I like speed horses," Mesic said. "I'd raced against this horse, and he won easy. He's got a lot of back class. But he's not the soundest horse around. He's got some issues."

Ballado Dancer, who earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 92 for his latest score, is pointing for the Grade 3, $125,000 Kennedy Road, a six-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds and upward here Nov. 18.

Castle Heights, a 6-year-old gelding, has collected more than $210,000 since being claimed by Mesic for $12,500 in November 2005. His two wins here this year came in turf sprints in the optional claiming ranks.

"He's a pretty hard horse to train," Mesic said. "If he doesn't want to do something, he doesn't want to do it."

Castle Heights, last of eight when making his most recent start in the Nearctic over six furlongs of turf, also is nominated to the Kennedy Road.

Other contributors to the Mesic cause this year have included Princess Gemma, a homebred 3-year-old filly who put together back-to-back wins in Ontario-sired maiden and first-level allowance races; Moro Moo, a 3-year-old filly who recorded her second win of the year when tagged for $11,500 here last Sunday; and Manningshill Road, a 4-year-old gelding who won three races at Fort Erie.

Sky Conqueror plans undecided

Sky Conqueror, coming off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Canadian International here Oct. 21, has remained in training but his immediate plans are in flux.

"I just sent him for scintigraphy, just as a precautionary measure," said trainer Darwin Banach, referring to a diagnostic bone scan. "If we're going to ship across the country, or do whatever, we want to make sure everything's 100 percent."

Sky Conqueror's racing options include the Grade 3, $200,000 River City, a 1 1/8-mile turf race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 23, and the Group 1, $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase, a 1 1/2-mile turf race at Sha Tin on Dec. 9.

In the meantime, Banach and Sky Conqueror's owner-breeder, Bill Sorokolit, plan to be represented by Palace Pier in Sunday's $150,000 Jammed Lovely, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies.

Palace Pier is heading to the Jammed Lovely off a second-place finish in a second-level optional claiming race for fillies and mares at 6o1/2 furlongs here Oct. 21.

"We wanted to get a race into her before the Jammed Lovely," Banach said. "I thought she ran pretty well, it being her first race since May. I think she'll be tough."

Palace Pier's last start came here May 20, when she finished eighth in the Grade 3 Selene. She was entered in the June 10 Woodbine Oaks but was a race-day scratch.

"She just needed some time," said Banach.

In her only other starts this year, Palace Pier finished third in Keeneland's Grade 3 Beaumont at seven furlongs and third in the Fury here at the same distance.

She's Indy Money turned out

She's Indy Money, a 4-year-old who won the Ontario Matron and the Grade 3 Seaway in her last two starts here, left for the farm Tuesday morning and will not see action again this season.

"She came up with a little pressure in one ankle," trainer Malcolm Pierce said. "We really didn't need to go on with her, so we wrapped up on her. I hope to have her back next year."

A winner of 4 of 6 starts and $268,290 this season, She's Indy Money should attract some support in the Sovereign Award balloting for her division.