10/20/2006 12:00AM

Meteor Storm fresh for International


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - When Meteor Storm blew into town for a second-place finish in last year's $2omillion Canadian International, he was making the eighth start of a campaign that had started in early March at Santa Anita.

But when Meteor Storm runs in Sunday's Grade 1 Canadian International over 1 1/2 miles of turf, he will be making only his second start of the year, after finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Kelso over one mile of turf at Belmont on Sept. 30.

"He's very fresh," said Aimee Dollase, daughter and assistant to Meteor Storm's trainer, Wally Dollase. "He seems to like traveling; it re-motivates him."

Meteor Storm, 7, journeyed to Florida following his visit here last year and won the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight over 1 1/2 miles of turf.

"After that race he had a chip in his ankle, and we decided to take that out," said Aimee Dollase, who joined Meteor Storm here Thursday from their Keeneland base.

"Potentially, he was to be sold as a stallion, but we weren't really aggressive about it. When the surgery went well, and he was doing super, we decided to go on with him."

Meteor Storm was off for about four months before returning to training in Southern California this spring. From there he moved to Churchill Downs, then on to Saratoga and Belmont, where he made his first start in more than nine months in the Kelso.

With his regular rider Javier Castellano in the irons, Meteor Storm rallied from last place in the seven-horse Kelso field to finish fourth, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths.

"He's not a miler," said Dollase. "It's probably the fastest race he's ever run. We wanted to see a good effort, see if he still had it in him. He ran huge.

"Javier had worked him and said he felt great. He's always stuck with this horse; he really likes him. He's been a real plus for us."

Following the Kelso, plans were put into motion for Meteor Storm's return to Canada. Meteor Storm clinched his return to Woodbine when he worked six furlongs in 1:12.80 over Keeneland's Polytrack last Sunday.

"His last couple of works there have been great," said Dollase. "He's really happy over the surface. When you have an older horse who's arthritic like him, it seems to be good for them."

And regardless of what transpires on Sunday, Dollase's love of Meteor Storm seems unlikely to diminish.

"He's such a class act," she said. "He's a very intelligent horse.

"He loves to train, loves to run. He's the ultimate professional."

Almerita likes soft going

While Woodbine-based Arravale has been prominent in the buildup to Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes, the race's "other" 3-year-old filly, Almerita, has enjoyed relative anonymity.

That could end up an oversight as Almerita, a German invader trained by Waldemar Hickst, has had plenty of time to settle in here at Woodbine since arriving a week before the Sept. 17 Canadian.

Ridden by Darryl Holland, Almerita ran fifth in the field of six in the Canadian, over 1 1/8 miles on firm turf.

"Overall, she ran a really good race," said Hickst, whose remarks were translated by local trainer Jim Stoehr. "She had a bad break and got caught off a slow pace in behind horses.

"Her normal race is to run close to the pace, or in front."

Almerita's most important performance to date was her victory in the Grade 1 Preis der Diana (German Oaks) on June 4, when she tracked the leaders before taking the lead in the final furlong of the 1 3/8-mile race over soft turf.

Hickst believes that the conditions of the E.P. Taylor - which will be run at 1 1/4 miles over turf that definitely will be less than firm - will be better for Almerita than those she had in the Canadian.

"The distance is more desirable," said Hickst. "She'll run on everything, but she likes it a little bit soft."

Almerita also should benefit from the local turf expertise of jockey Patrick Husbands, who has picked up the mount for the E.P. Taylor.

International, E.P. Taylor workers

Almerita was one of four horses who breezed over the soft turf course here Friday, going three furlongs in 39.20 seconds on a cool and rainy morning.

Kastoria, the Irish invader who will be facing males in the Canadian International, breezed two furlongs in 25 seconds.

Canadian International entrants Blue Monday and Collier Hill, both from England, earned identical clockings of 24 seconds for two-furlong breezes.

Live telecast of big races

Both the Canadian International and E.P. Taylor will be part of a live two-hour telecast on The Score, beginning at 2:30 p.m.

The all-Woodbine production will be hosted by Jeff Bratt and Jim Bannon with Renee Kierans and Sandy Hawley contributing analysis and commentary. Rob Platts is the producer and Matt Taylor the director.

The E.P. Taylor will go as the fifth race, with post time at 3 p.m. The Canadian International is the seventh race, going at 4:05 p.m.

* Daily Racing Form's Dan Illman and Jennifer Morrison, a freelance contributor to DRF and Woodbine's morning-line oddsmaker, will host a one-hour handicapping session beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday on the second floor of the grandstand. Topics of discussion will include the Canadian International and handicapping on Polytrack.