05/12/2004 12:00AM

Mulligan the Great back with full tank of gas


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Last spring, Mulligan the Great opened his campaign with an impressive win in an allowance race, but finished third as the favorite 15 days later in the New Providence.

"His first start last year was huge," said Cliff Hopmans, who trains Mulligan the Great for owner Charlie Simmons. "He was very, very fresh. When he came back, he probably bounced a little bit in the New Providence."

That won't happen this time. Hopmans has skipped the preliminaries, and Mulligan the Great will go straight to the main event, the 2004 renewal of the New Providence here Saturday.

The New Providence, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward, offers a purse of $125,000.

"This is not a prep. He's fit," said Hopmans. "It's a race we desperately want to win. If they want to try and go with him, they'd better have their running shoes on."

A 5-year-old gelding, Mulligan the Great was a Sovereign Award finalist in the sprinter division last year, winning two stakes and compiling a 4-3-1 record for earnings of $322,396 from eight starts.

"This horse runs so hard," said Hopmans. "He extends himself so incredibly, beyond what he's probably capable of some times. There are repercussions - it takes him a while to fill the gas tank back up, physically and mentally. With horses like him, you have to either give them fewer races than most or space their races apart."

Turf racing to begin if rain stays away

The first turf race of the season will be offered Saturday, with the $86,400 prep for the May 30 Connaught Cup, scheduled for one mile of the E.P. Taylor course.

That is, of course, if weather permits.

"I know a lot of people are anxious to get rolling," said Sean Gault, Woodbine's manager of racing surfaces. "We're looking at racing on it a little bit earlier this year than we have in the past, just the way the calendar is. We've often tried to target somewhere around May 19, depending on how the weather's been. This year, it's been fairly wet, consistently. There's lots of moisture, but things have been a little bit slower coming around. It's greening up really nice, but we're just starting to look for some growth."

One turf race also is scheduled for Sunday, the $86,400 prep for the June 5 Nassau, also over one mile.

Racing secretary Steve Lym said that once the course is up and running, turf racing generally would be offered twice for Wednesday and Friday cards, once for Thursdays, and three times for weekend programs.

"By mid-June, we should be up to full capacity," said Lym, adding that the majority of turf racing would come in non-claiming categories, including maidens, and at the $40,000 claiming levels and higher.

The turf training course is scheduled to open Wednesday and turf training will be available Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.

Wando looks ready for Dixie Handicap

Wando breezed four furlongs in 50 seconds on a fast main track here Wednesday and was slated to ship out Thursday morning for Pimlico, where he will run in the Grade 2 Dixie Handicap on Saturday, Preakness Day.

"He did it nice and easy," said Mike Keogh, who trains Wando for owner-breeder Gustav Schickedanz. "It was just to stretch his legs. He worked three-quarters last week."

Jockey Patrick Husbands, who rode Wando through his Canadian Triple Crown sweep last year, has been aboard for his recent drills and will be returning to the saddle Saturday.

Husbands had been named to ride Wando in the horse's 2004 debut at Keeneland April 18, but did not make it to Lexington due to travel problems.

Edgar Prado picked up the mount and guided Wando, Canada's reigning horse of the year, to a front-running win in an open allowance race over 1 1/16 miles of turf.

Soaring Free also running on Preakness Day

Soaring Free, Canada's Sovereign Award-winning sprinter of 2003, has been entered in the Grade 3 Maryland Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap at six furlongs Saturday at Pimlico.

Owned by Sam-Son Farm and trained by Mark Frostad, Soaring Free won at Keeneland in his only start this year, the Grade 3 Shakertown over 5 1/2 furlongs turf.

Woodbine and its partners will be offering simulcast wagering, beginning at approximately 12:40 p.m., on the fifth through last races on Saturday's 13-race Pimlico program.

Win City working toward a comeback

Wando was not the only former Canadian horse of the year and 3-year-old champion on the work tab here Wednesday. Win City, who earned his titles in 2001, breezed two furlongs in 23.80 in his first tentative step on the comeback trail.

Win City, owned by Frank DiGiulio and trained by Bob Tiller, has not raced since Sept. 2, 2002, when he went to the sidelines with an unspecified injury.

"The vet recommended we give him six months off; we gave him a year and a quarter," said Tiller.

Win City, a gelding who failed to find the range in seven starts as a 4-year-old, has career earnings of $994,558.

"He's looking good and acting good," said Tiller. "We're hoping we'll get him back to the races and get him over the $1 million mark. He won't run unless he's sound."