10/21/2003 11:00PM

Mr. Epperson near $1M mark

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mr. Epperson needs only a second-place finish in Friday's Woodbine feature, a six-furlong $80,000 optional claimer on grass, to surpass $1 million in career earnings.

Mr. Epperson, an 8-year-old trained by Scott Fairlie, was crowned champion sprinter in Canada in 2001, when he won the Grade 2 Nearctic and Grade 3 Play the King handicaps on turf, and the Grade 3 Highlander Handicap on the main track. He had a quiet campaign in 2002, winning just once in nine starts, and has been more effective this year while doing most of his best running on the grass. Mr. Epperson comes into Friday's race $9,669 shy of the $1 million milestone.

Mr. Epperson looked like the winner at every point in a six-furlong turf sprint Aug. 30, when he prevailed in 1:09.40 while getting a Beyer Speed Figure of 93. Two weeks later on the dirt, however, in another $80,000 race, he set the pace before fading in the final furlong and ended up fifth.

Fairlie put Mr. Epperson back on the grass in a $100,000 optional claimer most recently, and had to be pleased when the gelding closed from 6 1/2 lengths back to finish second to sharp Chris's Bad Boy.

James McKnight will ride Mr. Epperson from post 1.

Lining up outside Mr. Epperson will be Johnny Hollywood, Sir Blitz, Montezuma's Gold, Dillinger, and Lucky Tom.

Sir Blitz has been beaten just a length in each of his last two starts when finishing third and fourth, and has run only one bad race in seven appearances at the meeting. David Clark, who was aboard for both of Sir Blitz's victories earlier this year, has the call from trainer Danny Vella.

The Stronach Stable entry of Lucky Tom and Montezuma's Gold should be well supported in the betting.

Lucky Tom, a 3-year-old, has won two of his three grass starts, with those wins coming at the first two allowance conditions. He hasn't raced since finishing fifth behind Mr. Epperson and Sir Blitz in an $80,000 race Aug. 30, but has performed well off a layoff in the past for trainer Reade Baker.

Montezuma's Gold, a 7-year-old trained by Malcolm Pierce, hasn't been in the money in four starts this year, although he has been beaten by four lengths or less each time, including a fourth-place finish in the June 22 Nearctic.