05/04/2005 11:00PM

'Moonshine' fit for comeback

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Moonshine Justice has come back as good as new after recuperating from a hairline fracture in his cannon bone.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The road to the June 26 Queen's Plate, Canada's version of the Kentucky Derby, begins in earnest Saturday at Woodbine when Moonshine Justice takes on Verne's Baby and four other Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds at seven furlongs in the $162,000 Queenston Stakes.

Moonshine Justice is returning from an extended layoff following a series of sharp works. Moonshine Justice won three stakes last year and his only loss came in his debut to Wholelottabourbon, who went on to be crowned Canada's champion 2-year-old.

Trainer Dave Cotey said he had to put away Moonshine Justice for the rest of the year after a victory in the Sept. 5 Simcoe Stakes. Cotey said the colt had suffered a hairline fracture of his cannon bone before the seven-furlong race, but it wasn't diagnosed until afterward.

"He ran a pretty good race, considering that he went into it with that," Cotey said.

According to Cotey, jockey Todd Kabel said Moonshine Justice "felt horrible that day, even in the warm-up."

"They said to give him six weeks off and he would be fine, but we gave him 18 weeks," Cotey said. "He's got a very smooth way of going now. He's like a totally different horse this year."

Cotey said he believes that Moonshine Justice won't be a short horse in the Queenston.

"He's had a ton of works, and he's as fit as he's going to get," Cotey said. "All of his works have been really nice. All of them were in hand - we haven't set him down real hard yet. He's in great order."

Verne's Baby is undefeated in two starts, both five-furlong sprints over a sloppy track, including a recent Ontario sire allowance, for which he received a huge 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

Verne's Baby has run a little erratically on the lead in his races, greenness that trainer Sid Attard attributes to the fact the colt trains almost exclusively over Woodbine's training track and was simply taking in all the unfamiliar sights.

"I like the training track because it's quiet, and I don't bring him to the main track too much," Attard said. "He likes to look around a lot, and I've started bringing him [to the main track] every second day to get him used to everything."

Post time for Saturday's first race has been moved up to 12:55 p.m.