05/09/2004 11:00PM

A more mature Twisted Wit

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The plots for the Queen's Plate and Labatt Woodbine Oaks began to develop in earnest here last weekend with the runnings of the Queenston and Fury stakes.

The Queenston and Fury, seven-furlong races for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, respectively showcased some of the leading candidates for the 1 1/4-mile Plate here on June 27 and the 1 1/8-mile Oaks on June 13.

And while the Queenston and Fury winners - Twisted Wit and Eye of the Sphynx - still have distance questions to answer, both boosted their stock with impressive victories in their first preps for their major targets.

Twisted Wit, owned by Rolph Davis and trained by Bob Tiller, was making his seasonal debut in the Queenston. As a 2-year-old, he won a pair of sprint stakes before coming up short in two middle-distance tries.

"I thought it was a super race," Tiller said of the Queenston. "He ran very professionally; he was relaxed early."

Twisted Wit's demeanor was as important as his display of talent, as the gelding had proved very intractable en route to finishing sixth here in last fall's 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity.

"He kind of ran off in the Coronation," said Tiller, who outfitted Twisted Wit with a figure-8 noseband Saturday in order to give rider David Clark an assist in getting him to relax.

"I thought he matured some over the winter," Tiller said. "Now, it's a matter of him going long. He's very good up to seven furlongs."

Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk suffers first loss

Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk, also trained by Tiller, suffered his first defeat in three career starts when third as the favorite in the Queenston.

Owned by Frank DiGiulio, Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk had captured the six-furlong Woodstock, the first stakes prep for the Plate, on April 24 here.

"His race Saturday wasn't poor," said Tiller. "He got up to within about two lengths of [the leaders], and they kind of ran away from him."

Both Twisted Wit and Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk are nominated to the $150,000 Marine, the next major Queen's Plate prep, but Tiller is noncommittal about their participation. The 1 1/16-mile race will be run here on May 22.

"We'll come up with a game plan for both those horses," said Tiller. "The jury's still out on them, as far as going two turns."

Frostad may train 'Sphynx' up to Oaks

Eye of the Sphynx also has to prove herself going long, but trainer Mark Frostad seemed less concerned on that count after watching the lightly raced filly's performance in the Fury.

"She ran a super race," said Frostad, who trains Eye of the Sphynx for Sam-Son Farm. "She handled them pretty easily, and there were some pretty nice fillies in there.

"She's got two starts in her; now it's just a matter of a mile and an eighth. The way she ran today, I don't think it will be a problem. She's got a lovely stride."

Eye of the Sphynx had made her first career appearance just 17 days earlier at Keeneland, winning smartly over seven furlongs of slop. The Fury was run in muddy going.

Although Eye of the Sphynx is nominated to the Grade 2 Selene, the 1 1/16-mile race here May 23 that is the next stakes stepping-stone, Frostad could train the filly up to the Oaks.

"If she ran in the Selene, the Oaks would mean three races in five weeks," said Frostad. "That's a pretty tough thing. She's got lots of miles in her now."

Eye of the Sphynx, who improved her Beyer Speed Figure by 8 points to earn an 89 in the Fury, is not eligible for the Queen's Plate but could be supplemented at a cost of $15,000 before the next nomination stage closes at midnight Saturday.

Burst of Fire wins local debut

Frostad and Sam-Son unveiled their leading Plate nominee here last weekend, with Burst of Fire making a victorious local debut in a first-level allowance. The 1 1/16-mile race had a $25,000 claiming option and was run over a sloppy track.

"He did a very workmanlike job," said Frostad, "and I don't think he enjoyed that track much."

Burst of Fire, unraced at 2, was successful at a mile and 40 yards in his debut at Fair Grounds on March 13 and then ran third in an entry-level allowance at Keeneland on April 14.

"He's got three starts around two turns," said Frostad, who has nominated Burst of Fire to the Marine. "Now, he's just got to take that big step up to stakes company."

Burst of Fire earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 73 for Saturday's win, which was in line with his previous numbers.

Twisted Wit's winning Beyer was 98, while Niigon, stakes-placed at 2 and also considered a Plate candidate, was given an 84 for his 1 1/16-mile maiden score in the day's last race.

Tiller has three in weekend stakes

Tiller, the first trainer to saddle two stakes winners at the meeting, will have a chance to add to that total this weekend. Forever Grand is among the leading candidates for Saturday's six-furlong New Providence, and both Winter Garden and Brass in Pocket are pointing for Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong Hendrie.

Winter Garden and Brass in Pocket have been co-highweighted at 122 pounds for the Hendrie.