05/07/2008 12:00AM

Niagara Thunder best of Fehr's Plate prospects

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Alec Fehr headed down to Florida's Palm Meadows last December with a specific program in mind.

"With my potential good runners, I wanted to give them a chance to develop, and possibly have a Queen's Plate horse," said Fehr.

And while Fehr has been having his ups and downs lately, he still has Niagara Thunder on track for the June 22 Queen's Plate, with Sebastian's Song and Tacito scheduled to get another chance at proving they belong.

Niagara Thunder, Sebastian's Song, and Tacito all are owned by a syndicate known as Centennial Farms (Niagara) Inc.

"Niagara Thunder looks like our premier Plate horse right now," said Fehr, 41, who spent four years as private trainer for Knob Hill Stable before returning to a public role in 2006. "He's always been a pleasure to train; he has a lot of ability. He's an effortless mover, a natural routing type with a high cruising speed. I expect him to step forward every race."

Niagara Thunder showed promise in his first start at 2, finishing second behind Giquere in a six-furlong maiden race before heading to Florida.

"I wanted to get as much two-turn experience as I could into him," said Fehr. "I was looking to teach him to rate."

Niagara Thunder made three starts at Gulfstream, sandwiching a third-place finish and a victory in maiden turf races around a distant seventh-place finish on the dirt.

On the strength of his Florida form, Niagara Thunder was well-backed when he made his first local start of the season in the Wando, an open 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds on April 25.

Niagara Thunder ran well, too, as he dueled throughout with Giquere and wound up third, beaten a half-length by that rival and 3 3/4 lengths by the Kentucky-bred winner, Bonanza.

"We really didn't want to go to the lead; he needed to come off the pace a little bit, at least," said Fehr. "But, he hung in tough."

Niagara Thunder is scheduled to make one more start before the Queen's Plate. The May 17 Marine at 1 1/16 miles or the June 1 Plate Trial at 1 1/8 miles are his primary options.

Fehr takes blame for Sebastian's Song bounce

Sebastian's Song won his maiden at seven furlongs in his debut here last Oct. 28 but did not see action in Florida.

"We'd thought maybe we'd get a race into him down there, but by the time he was ready to run there was a race for him here," said Fehr. "There wasn't any point running him there, with the purses we have at Woodbine."

Sebastian's Song kept up his end of the bargain by winning a first-level allowance at seven furlongs here April 19.

But after Sebastian's Song stretched out to 1 1/16 miles here last Saturday, facing older horses in an optional claimer, Fehr was singing a different tune.

"I had to face the solid realization that I'd messed up," said Fehr, who watched Sebastian's Song fade to finish last in the field of six. "I did take into account, before I entered him, that he'd be running two weeks after a big effort and might have a 'bounce.'

"But he'd rebounded from his first race so well, I thought if he was going to have two more races it would be better to bring him back in two weeks now than closer to the Plate."

Fehr will regroup, and hopes to start Sebastian's Song in the Plate Trial or find a two-turn allowance race at about that time on the calendar.

"He came out of Saturday's race in great shape," said Fehr. "There are no concerns, soundness-wise. I'll have four weeks to prepare him properly, and then we'll see where we go from there."

Tacito approaches pivotal prep race

Tacito won his maiden for $20,000 at seven furlongs and repeated for $50,000 at 6 1/2 furlongs here last year.

In two starts at Gulfstream, both in one-mile starter allowances, Tacito finished a distant second and a close third.

But in his first local start this spring, which came in a 1 1/16-mile first-level allowance for 3-year-olds and upward on April 27, Tacito finished a faltering sixth.

"After his second race at Gulfstream, I thought I might have a chance at getting to the Plate if he kept on improving," said Fehr. "But, his last race was a huge disappointment. There's another race coming up for him; that will be the deciding factor."

Ex-claimers may get stakes shots

Fehr already has won races here with Victoria Bay and Dubai Gold, who were among four horses he claimed at Gulfstream for owner Terry Hamilton.

Victoria Bay, a 3-year-old filly who was claimed for $62,500 on April 5, had made her first five career starts on turf but was an impressive winner over older rivals when she ran for the first time on Polytrack in a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles here April 26.

Fehr has nominated Victoria Bay to the Grade 3, $250,000 Selene, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies here May 18.

"We'll see how the race is stacking up," said Fehr.

Dubai Gold, a 5-year-old gelding who was claimed for $50,000 at Gulfstream on Feb. 20, made his local debut for Fehr while competing in the same race as Sebastian's Song but with a $60,000 tag here last Saturday.

After trailing badly there in the early going, Dubai Gold launched a furious stretch rally up the rail and won by a half-length.

Dubai Gold also could make his next start in stakes company. Fehr plans to nominate him to both the May 25 Connaught Cup and the June 7 Eclipse. Both are Grade 3 races at 1 1/16 miles, with the Connaught Cup on turf and the Eclipse on Polytrack.

"He seems to run well on every surface," said Fehr. "I'll keep my options open."

* Martha Scott, a former owner and breeder, has joined the Woodbine racing department as an administrative assistant, based in the racing office.