06/23/2003 12:00AM

No doubts about him now


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Mike Keogh stuck to his guns and kept Wando and Mobil, the 3-year-old sons of Langfuhr whom he trains for owner and breeder Gustav Schickedanz, on separate paths to last Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate.

Now the twain have met, and when the dust had cleared the result was not necessarily what some may have anticipated, with the obvious exception of those who jumped on Wando late to make him the unexpected favorite over his stablemate.

Mobil, who had been the stated preference of Keogh and the well-publicized choice of jockey Todd Kabel, was absolutely no match for Wando, whom both the trainer and rider had felt could be suspect at the distance.

"I wasn't really surprised," said Keogh, the morning after watching Wando waltz to a nine-length score under jockey Patrick Husbands. "He ran huge. Once he got the lead on his own, I thought 'Oh, oh.' "

That exclamation was not one of dismay, however, as Keogh was able to focus his rooting energies on Mobil, who had bobbled at the start and seemed to lack his usual aggressiveness.

"When I saw Todd starting to hand-ride him down the backstretch, I knew something wasn't right," said Keogh. "He was just spinning his wheels.

"But there wasn't too much of any horse who was going to beat Wando."

Separate paths likely again

While Wando will proceed to the $500,000 Prince of Wales, the 1 3/16 mile race at Fort Erie July 20 which is the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, Keogh is uncertain about Mobil.

Wando would remain eligible for the $500,000 available for a Triple Crown sweep if he is successful at Fort Erie, and it would not seem prudent to have Mobil in the cast as a possible spoiler.

The final leg of the series, the $500,000 Breeders', will be run over 1 1/2 miles of turf here Aug. 9.

And while that distance once loomed as a serious obstacle, it would no longer seem to be the case for Wando, who earned a 112 Beyer Speed Figure in the Queen's Plate.

"Not after the way he ran Sunday," said Keogh. "Patrick said he could have gone around again."

The last horse to win the Canadian Triple Crown was Peteski, in 1993.

While the Canadian Triple Crown should keep Wando occupied this summer, Keogh can foresee testing the colt against the best of his peers in the United States.

"I'm sure he would fit with those horses," said Keogh, "but I'd rather try them at the end of the year."

Rock Again may take another shot

While the Prince of Wales field seems likely to come up rather light after Wando's dominating performance, trainer Malcolm Pierce could be taking another shot with the third-place finisher in the Queen's Plate, Rock Again.

"The horse came back really tired," said Pierce, who trains Rock Again for Stronach Stable. "He just couldn't beat the big favorites. He ran his race. I'm pretty happy with him.

"Both of Mike's horses had seasoning as 2-year-olds, and mine only had one start. I just think that's really important when you're going to go a mile and a quarter at this time of year."

Rock Again, the 9-2 third choice here Sunday, finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Mobil, the same margin that separated the two when Rock Again finished second in the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial.

Shoal Water to go on turf

Mark Frostad, who sent out Shoal Water to finish fourth in the Plate, also was happy enough with his runner's performance.

"He ran a great race," said Frostad, noting that Shoal Water was making just his second start of the season for his owners, Sam-Son Farm. "If he'd been a little more seasoned, he might have run a little better.

"But nobody was going to beat Wando."

Frostad said Shoal Water is slated to switch his attention to turf, with his next target the 1 1/8-mile Toronto Cup here July 12.

Dance Engagement to take step back

Dance Engagement, who picked up fifth-place money in the Plate, his third career start, probably will return to the maiden ranks for his next outing.

"It was a good effort," said John Ross, who trains Dance Engagement for the Hillsbrook Farm of Garland Williamson.

Ross was less satisfied with the performance of Arco's Gold, whom he trains for Alex and Steven DiIorio.

"He got bounced around pretty good from the word go," said Ross, who had watched Arco's Gold finish ninth as the 11-1 fourth choice. "I was disappointed."

Ross is uncertain as to what the immediate future holds for Arco's Gold, who missed several weeks of training this spring because of illness and was making just his second start of the year in the Plate.

Thinking big about Soaring Free

Wando was not the only potential superstar to perform here Sunday, as Soaring Free was a very impressive winner for Sam-Son and Frostad in his turf debut, the Grade 2 Nearctic Handicap over six furlongs.

"He ran a super race," said Frostad. "I actually thought three-quarters of a mile might be a little short for him, against those kind of turf sprinters.

"He's world-class, I think. Hopefully he'll go on to the Atto Mile, if everything goes right."

The Atto Mile, a Grade 1, $1 million turf race for 3-year-olds and upward, will be run here Sept. 14.