10/17/2003 12:00AM

Nihilator has the speed to take Ascot Graduation


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Last weekend, Mark Cloutier, assistant trainer to his wife, Toni, watched as Shelby Madison got pinned down on the rail in the early stages of the Grade 3 Ballerina Breeders' Cup. When the classy mare finally got loose, she made a race out of it, but in the end her early troubles were too much to overcome, and she finished third to Dancewithavixen.

Cloutier probably doesn't have to worry about the same thing happening when he leads Nihilator over for the $100,000 Ascot Graduation this Sunday. A speedy son of Seeker's Journey, Nihilator has natural speed, drew the rail, and figures to have an easy time making the lead.

"We were outmaneuvered, and she really didn't like being stuck behind Grace for You," he said referring to the Ballerina. "But they'll be chasing us in the Ascot."

Nihilator appears to be peaking for the Ascot, and Cloutier expects him to take a big step forward off his latest race, a good second-place finish to Downtown Louie in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race Oct. 4.

"He's come a long way in a short time," he said. "He went from 3 1/2 furlongs, to 6 1/2 furlongs to a 1 1/16 miles in three races within a month. He's really settling down, and he should run very tough Sunday."

In some ways Nihilator is very similar to Shelby Madison. They each have excellent speed, but both are nervous types and can waste a lot of their energy in the early stages of a race. Shelby Madison did win the Fantasy at 2, but it wasn't until this year, as a 5-year-old, that she really learned how to relax and in doing so became the top older filly and mare in the province.

"He's learning with each race," said Cloutier as he was jumping off Nihilator following his exercises Friday morning. "And he loves this stuff. He just glides over the slop, and it won't bother me if it keeps raining."

The horse he will have to beat in the Ascot is Lord Samarai. A son of Yoonevano, he has won 3 of 4 starts, all in stakes races, and according to his trainer, Robert VanOverschot, he is coming up to the race in excellent shape. VanOverschot won the Ascot with Illusive Force in 2002 and is pretty happy with his chances of repeating this year. Both horses are owned and bred by Canyon Farms.

"He's coming into the race better than Illusive Force did last year," he said. "You never really know until you run them, but he certainly trains like he'll be even better going a route, so I'm not too concerned about the distance."

Lord Samarai showed a lot of class by winning the Jack Diamond Futurity. He was bounced around after the start, but regrouped and closed with a rush to win by a half-length over Proud Son. Win or lose Sunday, Lord Samarai will not be following the same path as a 3-year-old that Illusive Force did.

"No, we're not going back to Woodbine for the Queen's Plate next year," said VanOverschot. "We'll just turn him out and bring him back here next season."

VanOverschot also said that Illusive Force, who was turned out in midsummer, is doing fine.

"The trip to Ontario took a lot out of him, and he just needed a rest," he said. "He'll be back as good as ever next year."

Future Flash adding blinkers

Trainer Daryl Snow is hoping that the addition of blinkers will help Future Flash stay a little more focused in the Ascot. A full brother to 2002 British Columbia Derby winner Cruisin Kat, Future Flash showed more early speed than usual in his third-place finish to Louie Downtown in his latest race.

"I was a bit surprised that he showed that much speed, but he also ran very greenly," said Snow. "He was outside of horses most of the way, and I don't think he cared for that. I like the draw, he drew the 4-hole, and he should be happier inside of horses. Hopefully he'll be up close, and we'll see what happens from there."