08/08/2004 11:00PM

Niigon not likely for Travers start


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - A Bit O' Gold and Niigon, who split the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, saw action on different fronts last weekend.

A Bit O'Gold, winner of Fort Erie's 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales on July 18, tried turf and 1 1/2 miles for the first time at Woodbine in Sunday's Breeders' Stakes, the final leg of the Canadian Triple.

And, with Jono Jones contributing a flawless ride, A Bit O'Gold passed both tests with flying colors, scoring by 1 3/4 lengths over fellow Canadian-breds.

Niigon, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate here June 27, also was venturing into unfamiliar territory Sunday. In his case the test came against Grade 2 company in Saratoga's 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, a $500,000 race that is a stepping-stone to the Grade 1, $1 million Travers there Aug. 28.

Niigon finished fourth, beaten 12 1/4 lengths, but was moved up to third after being bumped hard in midstretch.

"I think he ran a decent race," said Eric Coatrieux, who trains Niigon for Chiefswood Stable. "It's a big step up.

"He's improving. I think it was good for him to run against those kind of horses."

Niigon was heading back to his home base Monday, and Coatrieux said Niigon probably would pass on the Travers, where he could have to tangle with the likes of the Jim Dandy winner, Purge, and the Haskell winner, Lion Heart.

"If he can't finish in the first three," said Coatrieux of a Travers start for Niigon, "I don't think he'd go." He added that the Grade 2, $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race at Philadelphia Park Sept. 6, was an option for Niigon.

In the meantime, A Bit O'Gold will get a week or two off at the farm while Day Phillips decides on a course of action.

While she has not ruled out taking A Bit O'Gold out of town, Day Phillips also is looking at either the Elgin, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race for colts and geldings, or the Halton, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, as possible spots for his return. The Elgin and the Halton both are $125,000 are yearling sales stakes and will be run here Sept. 5.

A longer-term target for A Bit O'Gold would be the Ontario Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race here Oct. 10, the only unrestricted 3-year-old stakes remaining on the Woodbine schedule.

Coatrieux acknowledged that Niigon also could wind up in the Ontario Derby, in an attempt to even the score with A Bit O'Gold in a matchup that would have definite championship implications.

A Bit O'Gold, who also defeated Niigon in the Plate Trial, holds a 2-1 edge over his rival, and his Breeders' success has to make him a clear pro tem leader of the 3-year-old division.

And, while Niigon's three-quarter-length victory in the Queen's Plate was all that stood between A Bit O'Gold and a Canadian Triple Crown, Day Phillips prefers to savor the ones that A Bit O'Gold caught than regret the one that got away.

"He showed this winter, that he had the quality of a Triple Crown winner," said Day Phillips. "He tries so hard. I want for him to win, and keep his star rolling."

Jones always confident

Despite A Bit O'Gold's lack of turf experience, Jones had given Day Phillips the thumbs-up after A Bit O'Gold worked over the E.P. Taylor turf course here last Monday.

"He came down the lane really nice," said Jones, looking back on the exercise after the Breeders'. "I knew he was a 'distance' horse. I was pretty confident.

"And, he won pretty nice. Obviously, at a mile and a half, he was getting pretty tired in the end."

Jones says he believes the best may be yet to come for A Bit O'Gold.

"With a horse like that, who tries like anything, you don't know how good he could be," said Jones.

"The fact that he can run on dirt or turf shows how good he is. I wouldn't say he's a turf horse, but class is class."

Jones, who has enjoyed a heightened profile here this year because of A Bit O'Gold's exploits, will be attempting to make an impression south of the border when he pilots Mobil in Saturday's Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Mobil breezed a smart five furlongs in 59 seconds on the turf training track here Sunday, with Jones in the irons.

Surging River salvages part of day

Sam-Son Farm had to settle for second, fourth, and fifth money in the Breeders' with Burst of Fire, Silver Ticket, and Rainbows for Luck finishing in those respective positions.

But Sam-Son and trainer Mark Frostad didn't go away winless, as Surging River, a 4-year-old colt, became a stakes winner earlier on the program in the $104,000 With Approval, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for Canadian-breds.

"We've always known he's a nice horse," said Frostad. "We've just taken our time."

Surging Free joins a list of older turf stakes winners in the Sam-Son fold that includes Soaring Free, Shoal Water, Strut the Stage, Puffer, and Colorful Judgement.

With the exception of Soaring Free, a very talented sprinter and miler, all will occasionally find themselves at cross-purposes.

"It's pretty tough," said Frostad. "You want to separate them as much as possible, unless they complement each other. You don't want them banging heads."