06/01/2005 11:00PM

Mona Rose, Classic Stamp set to begin turf tussle

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mona Rose won a pair of stakes and $319,439 but finished fourth in the Sovereign Award voting for champion female turf horse last year.

But the landscape has changed in 2005, as Inish Glora, who repeated as female turf champ, and Hour of Justice, third in last year's balloting, both have been retired to the breeding shed.

That leaves Classic Stamp, runner-up in last year's voting, and Mona Rose to begin what could be a season-long renewal of their divisional rivalry in Sunday's 1 1/16-mile Nassau, the first filly-mare turf stakes of the meeting.

Classic Stamp held a 2-1 edge in their encounters last year and has a start under her belt this spring. Mona Rose will be making her first appearance of the season.

Earl Barnett, who trains the 5-year-old Mona Rose for her owners and breeders, Paul and Frank O'Brien, said: "She ran well in her first start last year, got a mile and a sixteenth, and had a lot left.

"I've trained her basically the same, but she's a lot more mature now."

Mona Rose, in fact, won her first three races last year, beginning with a first-level allowance and climaxing with her first stakes score in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Dance Smartly.

Barnett believes, then, that fitness will not be an issue for the Nassau.

"I think she's ready to run a mile and a sixteenth," said Barnett, who brought Mona Rose into the track on March 7.

"She's hard to train - she kind of trains herself," he said. "She gallops two to three miles every day. I tried training her light last year - she's a very lean horse. But she wouldn't eat. The more she does, the better she eats.

"The only concern I have is how she handles the stress of being too fresh. She likes to come from out of it. Being fresh, she might be too close early."

Mona Rose will have a new jockey this year, Todd Kabel, who was regular rider for both Inish Glora and Hour of Justice. Kabel was in the irons May 22 when Mona Rose breezed six furlongs in 1:12.20 on the training track turf course.

"Galloping out, he could hardly pull her up," said Barnett.

Three in the Bag in for Plate Trial

Three in the Bag, who has kept some serious company while racing in Florida and New York this year, arrived at Woodbine on Thursday morning and will make his local bow in Sunday's 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial.

Three in the Bag, who is trained by Stanley Hough, was supplemented to the June 26 Queen's Plate at a cost of $15,000 and will be looking to use the Trial as his stepping-stone to the $1 million, 1 1/4-mile showpiece.

Bred by Kinghaven Farm in Ontario and sold at Keeneland for $200,000, Three in the Bag has a win and three second-place finishes from six starts.

In his maiden victory, over one mile at Gulfstream on March 27, Three in the Bag defeated King of Jazz, a Manitoba-bred who has gone on to win two straight in Kentucky and is scheduled to make his next start in the Plate.

Also at Gulfstream, Three in the Bag had finished second in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race won by Noble Causeway, who went on to finish second in the Florida Derby and to run in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

In his last appearance, at Belmont, Three in the Bag finished second in a 1 1/16-mile first-level allowance won by Reverberate, who came back to finish second there in last week's Grade 2 Peter Pan.

Robert Landry, who won last year's Queen's Plate aboard Niigon, will pilot Three in the Bag on Sunday.

Surface redone for consistency

Woodbine, responding to the concerns of horsemen, undertook an extensive renovation of the one-mile main track here Monday and Tuesday.

Early returns are encouraging, according to Tom Cosgrove, Woodbine's director of Thoroughbred racing.

"The ongoing concern with the track was keeping it safe, consistent, and fair," said Cosgrove, adding that inconsistencies in the track's cushion had led to some spots being harder than others.

"The track has to be safe for riders and horses. For the betting public, we try to maintain consistency so that their expectations will be there when they are trying to handicap."

Brian Jabelman, Woodbine's director of racing surfaces, and Sean Gault, the manager of racing surfaces, oversaw the work performed by the track maintenance staff.

"We roto-tilled the track down six inches or so," said Cosgrove. "The idea was to blend the top and the bottom. We also built up the seven-furlong chute."

Free seminars on Saturdays

Jennifer Morrison, a Daily Racing Form contributer and Woodbine's oddsmaker, will host the first of five "Early Morning Workout" sessions on Saturday. The free meetings, which will run from 8 to 10 a.m. in the trackside tent, will include Morrison's insights into handicapping and how the morning line is set.

Jim Bannon, Woodbine television host and handicapper, also begins his 2005 series of free teaching seminars on Saturday, with a one-hour session beginning at 11 a.m. on the second floor of the grandstand.