06/06/2003 12:00AM

Modest pedigree, big talent


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The unbeaten Too Late Now, an impressive winner of the Grade 1 Selene Stakes, will try to write a new chapter to her rags-to-riches story Sunday at Woodbine in the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks.

The nine-furlong Oaks, for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara. It will be followed by the July 1 Bison City Stakes at Fort Erie, and the Wonder Where Stakes here Aug. 4. A $350,000 bonus will be awarded if any filly sweeps the series.

Sunday's 10-race card also includes the $136,875 Victoria Park Stakes, the final major prep for the June 22 Queen's Plate.

Too Late Now, trained by Jim Day for Come by Chance Stable, is out of an unraced mare who cost $1,000. Her sire, Raj Waki, stands for $1,000, and doubles as Day's stable pony.

Unraced at 2, Too Late Now has won all three of her starts under jockey Robert Landry. Last time, in her stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Selene, she stalked the leaders before drawing off in the stretch to score comfortably.

Day said he knew it would be a challenge for Landry to get Too Late Now to rate in the early stages of the Selene, where the pace would be much slower than what she had grown accustomed to in her first two starts.

"She's a very fast filly," Day said, "and coming off those two sprint races, I knew it was going to be a bit of a project getting her in behind some horses, but Robert handled it extremely well. He wrestled with her a little around the first turn, but once she got settled in behind horses, she was quite kind and ran a very professional race from about the five-eighths pole on."

Day is cautiously optimistic heading into the Oaks, noting that Too Late Now has been handling everything well while progressing in a rapid manner.

"As she's raced more, she's trained more and more aggressively," said Day, who has won the Oaks a record four times. "If we can hold her together for another major race, that would be great, but an awful lot as happened in a very short time frame. I don't like the scenario, but that's the way the cards were dealt, and we've got to play them the best way we can."

Landry rates Too Late Now as one of the best horses he has ridden.

"She's really talented," Landry said, "and I think there's still room for improvement. She loves to run, and she has a great will to win."

Seeking the Ring is a full-sister Catch the Ring, whom Landry rode to victory in the 2000 Oaks. Seeking the Ring won a maiden race second time out at Keeneland in April, and is coming off a flat fourth-place finish in the Selene.

Trainer Mark Frostad believes Seeking the Ring didn't handle the track in the Selene.

"It was very cuppy," Frostad noted. "She couldn't get a hold of it very well. I think a lot of horses need a race over this track."

Brattothecore, victorious in the Ontario Lassie Stakes at 2, lost for the first time in her fourth and most recent outing, in the seven-furlong Fury Stakes. Trainer John Ross said Brattothecore was in heat during the race.

"She wasn't totally focused that day," Ross admitted. "She worked back really well after she came out of heat. She worked seven-eighths in 1:26 in company with Arco's Gold."

Mountain Dawn won her season opener, and then finished second in the Fury before checking in fifth in the Selene.

Jockey David Clark, who teamed up with trainer Mac Benson to capture the 1985 Oaks with La Lorgnette, said Mountain Dawn didn't fire her best shot in the Selene.

"She was a little lackadaisical," Clark said. "If she can punch home like she did in her first two starts this year, she'll be very dangerous."

Kissed by a Prince has crossed the wire first in all three of her races, all around one turn. Trainer Mike DePaulo has mixed feelings about running her long in the Oaks.

"It's possible she's a come-from-behind sprinter," said DePaulo, "but she's rateable, and has some stamina in her pedigree."