11/29/2001 1:00AM

No break in action just yet for McPherson


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - When the lengthy Woodbine meeting grinds to a close here late Sunday afternoon the majority of the local trainers will be taking a bit of a breather, knowing that the Feb. 1 opening of the training track will come all too soon.

But for others, like Sandy McPherson, the beat goes on, and on.

Heading into Friday's card, McPherson had sent out 19 winners and 58 in-the-money finishers from 115 starters at this meeting, good for purse earnings of $825,173.

"We haven't quite met all of our goals, but we're in the ballpark," said McPherson, who had entered six horses here over the final three programs.

Early next week McPherson will be heading south, with of his 10 younger horses bound for Ocala, Fla., and another nine race-ready runners en route to Gulfstream Park.

"I've been going for five solid years now," said the 54-year-old McPherson, noting that the longest stretch of time he actually has taken off during that period was the three days he spent with his family to celebrate the fifth birthday of his son, Douglas, last winter.

But McPherson is not complaining about his lot, particularly when it comes to Gulfstream, which he first experienced back in the late 1970's.

"I was training in Winnipeg," said McPherson, who started out at Assiniboia Downs in 1977. "I'd go down to Gulfstream to rub horses during the winter.

"I'd stay in a motel, and wouldn't even make enough to pay my rent. It was a real busman's holiday."

Times certainly have changed for McPherson, who relocated to Woodbine in 1990, added winter racing at Aqueduct to his regimen in 1997, and will be launching his second full-time session as a Gulfstream trainer. He had gained a measure of renown at Gulfstream earlier when Ashboro, whom he trained for Beclawat Stable, shipped in to upset the 1997 Heather Handicap.

McPherson said last year's move to Florida was initiated by owner John Atto, proprietor of Atto Insurance and sponsor of Woodbine's Grade 1 Atto Mile, for whom he has been training since 1998.

"The type of stable we had was better suited to Gulfstream than New York, anyway," said McPherson, who recorded three winners and nine in-the-money finishers at the 2001 meeting. "We did all right; there were some that worked out.

"We're still just getting our feet wet. I've never been a claiming trainer before; it's totally different from training young horses."

McPherson's 2002 Gulfstream prospects include Wicklow Highlands, What a Strike, Charming Melody, and Blues Music, all of whom are slated to see action here this weekend.

Wicklow Highlands, claimed for $50,000 July 13, finished second last time out in the Autumn Handicap and is entered in a classified allowance race Saturday.

What a Strike, who has won twice for $40,000 since being claimed for that price June 23, is in for $50,000 later on the card.

Charming Melody will try first-level allowance opposition Sunday after being claimed for $50,000 from her last start Oct. 21 while Blues Music, who will compete for a $25,000 tag, was claimed for that price at Gulfstream March 16.

"It's more than likely that we will claim some more down there this year," said McPherson. "Especially if John's there - he likes to claim them himself."

Atto obviously is not shy about playing the claiming game, with his other acquisitions this year including Cozy Up Doc, a 4-year-old filly, for $80,000; Greatballsoffire, a 5-year-old mare who had begun her career with McPherson, $62,500; and Van Patten, an 8-year-old gelding who was taken for $62,500 but later was lost for the same price.

McPherson points out that while claims of such magnitude might have been considered very risky business here in the past, the current economic situation here makes them viable.

"And it doesn't matter how old they are," he added. "The purses are so good, you can get out on them."

Florida plan stresses seasoning

Some of McPherson's Ocala contingent also could see action in the south.

"We'd like to get a race into every maiden we possibly can," he said. "I'd like to have them race-fit when they come here."

While McPherson plans to stay at Gulfstream until early April, his Woodbine operation will be gearing up well before his return under the direction of his wife, Allison, and his experienced crew.

"I'll have some here in February or March," he said. "The ones that there are races for early will come up. The turf horses will stay down there, and we may run a few at Keeneland. We ran a couple there last year, on our way up."

Two stakes on finale

Sunday's 12-race closing-day program, which attracted 133 entrants before scratch time, will begin at 12:35 p.m.

Headlining the card will be the $110,400 Valedictory Handicap, which goes as race 7, and the $130,625 Kingarvie Stakes, which will be the ninth race.

A Fleets Dancer, winner of last year's Valedictory, will be the

124-pound highweight and looms an odds-on choice in the field of eight for this year's renewal of the 1 3/4-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward.

Streakin Rob, coming off a second-place finish in the open Display Stakes, will be the 124-pound highweight and solid choice in the field of seven for the Kingarvie, a 1 1/16 mile race for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds.

Seminar's a fund-raiser

A one-hour handicapping seminar here at 11 a.m. Saturday is to be a fund-raising vehicle for the Jim Proudfoot Corner of the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund. The fund raises money for underprivileged children during the Christmas season. Woodbine will be contributing to the cause, and other donations would be welcomed.

Jennifer Morrison-Learn, a free-lance contributor to Daily Racing Form whose selections appear in The Toronto Star, will join sportswriters Chris Young and Dave Perkins at the seminar.