09/16/2008 12:00AM

Muskwa in runner-up rut


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - If he were still alive, the legendary sportswriter Pete Axthelm might have had this to say about the win-shy Muskwa: "If he was in a closet, he'd be a hanger."

Muskwa, who has finished second in 6 of 18 starts, should be well backed in Thursday's second race at Woodbine, but he's obviously not a good candidate to get the job done in the $40,000 claimer for nonwinners of two.

Muskwa has filled out the exactor in three of six starts this year, and was beaten a nose after looking the part of a winner on two occasions. He earned a career high 81 Beyer Speed Figure when he lost a $40,000 dash by a whisker on June 30.

Muskwa was surprisingly flat two races ago, when fifth on the grass, the surface over which he won his maiden last summer. Most recently, trainer Scott Fairlie dropped him down to the $20,000 nonwinners-of-two class, and the gelding gave way in the final jump after leading the way as the favorite.

On Thursday, Muskwa stretches out to seven furlongs, a distance at which he has been second in three of four tries. His regular rider, Na Somsanith, has won 16 races from 87 mounts for Fairlie at the meeting.

Believe it or not, Carolus Magnus has been a bridesmaid more times than Muskwa. He has a record of 1-8-6 in 27 starts.

Carolus Magnus is in a slump this year, after earning his keep while spending an eternity at the first-allowance condition. He is coming off back-to-back fourths at Thursday's level, but has worked quickly since his latest venture.

A logical prospect for the top spot is the Steve Asmussen-trained Heliopsis.

Heliopsis commenced his career by finishing third in a March 2 maiden special at the Fair Grounds, and he subsequently graduated on the dirt at Oaklawn. He has run hot and cold since shipping to Asmussen's Woodbine barn, and was recently second in a six-furlong grass race on Aug. 13.

Leading rider Jim McAleney retains the mount on Heliopsis, who was a close second in a $50,000 claimer at seven furlongs here in June.

Knotty Knotty was a stalking third behind Heliopsis in the Aug. 13 turf dash. His maiden victory came on the Polytrack here last November, but his synthetic-track form since then has been lackluster.

Also in the field are longshots Charming Kisses and Bold Suspect.