06/19/2003 11:00PM

A New York surprise package


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It would seem fairly safe to say that none of the other locally based entrants can measure up to Mobil, Wando, and Rock Again, who are attracting most of the attention in the final hours leading up to Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate.

But there is one relatively unknown quantity in the lineup, as Sircharlesschnabel checked in from his Belmont base Friday and will play the rare role of Plate invader.

Sircharlesschnabel, owned by Hard Eight Stable and trained by Phil Serpe, actually is far from a total stranger to Woodbine.

The colt was originally sold for $52,000 here at the select yearling sale, and later was purchased privately by Serpe after failing to make his reserve at Ocala's March 2-year-olds in training sale.

"I saw the horse, and I really liked him," said Serpe. "Being a Canadian-bred was just icing on the cake."

Sircharlesschnabel began his career at Saratoga last summer, finishing fifth and third in maiden special weight sprints. He then returned here on Labor Day for the $105,000 Simcoe, a yearling sales stakes in which he finished third as the favorite behind Mobil.

Serpe, however, believes Sircharlesschnabel was unable to show his true stuff in that first Woodbine venture.

"He kind of ran into some shipping problems," said Serpe. "The van broke down. It took him a long time to get up there, and he was a little bit under the weather when he ran.

"He had some shins that had been nagging him, and then after that race we just stopped him and cooled him out and fired his shins, and brought him back this winter."

Sircharlesschnabel returned at Gulfstream in January, finishing a closing fourth at six furlongs and then a bang-up second in his first try at 1 1/16 miles, prompting Serpe to begin entertaining thoughts of the Queen's Plate.

But the wheels fell off in his next outing, as Sircharlesschnabel ended a distant seventh as the odds-on choice in another 1 1/16-mile maiden special.

"The horse definitely showed an incredible amount of promise in his first start going long in Florida," said Serpe. "We hit a few bumps in the road after that race.

"We were having some muscle-fatigue problems with the horse, which is why, after his next start in Florida, we brought him up to New York."

Sircharlesschnabel did not fare all that much better at Belmont when he made his first start in 12 weeks, finishing fifth over one mile in sloppy going.

"It puzzles me why the horse ran that way," said Serpe, "because he had trained great going into the race. We thought he would run a really productive race. It was a very tough maiden race, and he just ran a very, very even race.

"I just wasn't sure why. We went over the horse, from one end to the other. There wasn't anything significant that we could find wrong with him. So, we just held our course."

Serpe's steadfastness paid off as Sircharlesschnabel finally put it all together at Belmont on June 5, romping to a seven-length score over 1 1/16 miles in muddy going in a race originally scheduled for turf.

"I can appreciate the fact that it was an off-the-turf race," said Serpe, "but he ran great that day. He completely pulverized the field. He ran an 88 Beyer Speed Figure, he won at a gallop. And that's what we were expecting him to do."

Can Sircharlesschnabel build on that effort, and take the Queen's Plate trophy back to New York?

Neither Serpe, nor anyone else, can furnish a definite answer.

"All I can say is we're looking forward to him running big this weekend," said the trainer. "He's doing excellent now."

Filly may make trip from New York

Serpe hopes to be back at Woodbine later this summer with Commander's Lady, a Canadian-bred a 3-year-old filly whom he trains for Hilly Fields Stable.

Her target is the $250,000 Wonder Where, the 1 1/4-mile turf race for Canadian-bred fillies that is the final leg of Canada's Triple Tiara.

Commander's Lady, purchased for $40,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, has seen action five times and was a smart winner of a first-level allowance over one mile on turf at Belmont in her last race.

Before that, she had finished second in a similar race at Gulfstream after having won her maiden there in an off-the-turf race that went on a sloppy track.