06/09/2004 12:00AM

Nashinda must keep eye on 'Sphynx'


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mac Benson has been in this position before. In 1993, he captured the Labatt Woodbine Oaks with Deputy Jane West, a daughter of Silver Deputy. On Sunday he will send out Nashinda, also a daughter of Silver Deputy, in the $500,000 Oaks, a nine-furlong event for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Benson, who trained Silver Deputy, believes that Nashinda is better suited to the Oaks distance than Deputy Jane West.

"Deputy Jane West was a real speedball," Benson recalled. "She wasn't a true mile-and-an-eighth horse. I think she won the Oaks because somebody had to win it that year - it wasn't an outstanding bunch of 3-year-old fillies. She wasn't a true route horse. Her best race was from seven-eighths to a mile."

Nashinda won both of her 2-year-old outings over abbreviated distances, and she suffered a narrow loss to Ontheqt when she returned from a long layoff in the six-furlong Star Shoot Stakes April 25. She led throughout her last race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance on May 16, and prevailed by nearly five lengths, earning an impressive Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

Nashinda is a full sister to the 1998 Queen's Plate winner, Archers Bay. Both are out of Adorned, who won the 1 1/4-mile Maple Leaf Stakes for Benson in 1992.

"Adorned was a distance-of-ground filly," Benson recalled. "Archers Bay was a good-sized horse, but Nashinda's not a big filly. She has a great head on her. That's one of her biggest assets, which makes me think, along with her breeding, that she'll go a distance of ground."

Nashinda, with her natural speed, has the right running style to take the Oaks. Six front-runners have found the mark in the last 12 runnings of the race. Stalkers, within four lengths of the lead at the key calls, were victorious on five occasions. Just one closer - Catch the Ring - has won the Oaks since 1992.

Sam-Son Farm has captured the Oaks six times. Two of those winners were for trainer Mark Frostad: Catch the Ring in 2000 and Dancethruthedawn in 2001. They will be represented this year by unbeaten Eye of the Sphynx, who could vie for favoritism with Nashinda.

Eye of the Sphynx made her belated debut at Keeneland in April, winning a seven-furlong maiden special weight event over a sloppy track. She doubled up here in the seven-furlong Fury Stakes, and was a very gutsy winner of the 1 1/16-mile Selene Stakes on May 23.

Having extensive or positive racing experience at 2 has been beneficial for Oaks prospects, but it isn't a must. Too Late Now made her career debut just two months before last year's Oaks, and managed to squeeze in two other prep races before winning the Oaks with an unbeaten record.

Capdiva, the 1997 Oaks winner, made her first start on Dec. 29 of the previous year, while 1996 winner Silent Fleet finished over 30 lengths in arrears on a sloppy track in her lone 2-year-old outing.

Five of the last 11 Oaks winners, including Capdiva, were victorious after capturing the Fury in their previous start. The others were Catch the Ring, Touch Dial, Kirby's Song, and Deputy Jane West.

The Selene has been the most effective Oaks prep in recent years. Too Late Now won last year's Selene, and Ginger Gold took the 2002 Oaks after finishing second in the Selene.

Eye of the Sphynx's victories in the two key Oaks preps, the Fury and the Selene, should make her especially dangerous this year. But using a 1 1/16-mile allowance as the final tune-up, as Nashinda is doing, has also been a recipe for success. Three Oaks winners since 1992 were coming off an allowance score - Silent Fleet, Plenty of Sugar, and Hope for a Breeze.

Two of the last nine Oaks winners had competed in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Gal in a Ruckus won the 1995 Kentucky Oaks, and then won the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill, before winning the Oaks. Dancethruthedawn prevailed after finishing far back in the Kentucky Oaks.

This year's Oaks looks like two-horse race, between Nashinda and Eye of the Sphynx. Either one would be a deserving winner.