09/03/2002 11:00PM

Noverre gives Godolphin big shot


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Godolphin, whose accomplishments in the international racing world are without equal, has been disappointed in its first two cracks at the $1 million Atto Mile.

Cape Cross, the outfit's first runner in the Grade 1 turf feature, finished sixth at 7-1 in 1999 and Muhtathir ran fifth at 4-1 the following season.

But the stable's record of failure could change in Sunday's Atto Mile when Noverre, a Group 1 winner of $1,311,097, runs under regular rider Frankie Dettori for Godolphin master Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum and trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

"We had three horses penciled in for this race," said assistant trainer Ross Campbell, who arrived from England along with Noverre and exercise rider Gerry Moylan on Tuesday evening. "This was the horse they felt was the healthiest, with the best chance."

Noverre, a Kentucky-bred, will be making his third trip to North America.

A three-quarter brother to Arazi, Noverre failed to follow his sibling's lead when he finished 11th in his main-track debut in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in 2000.

Looking for redemption last year Noverre finished seventh, beaten 4 3/4 lengths as the lukewarm favorite, in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont.

And while he comes into the Atto Mile with solid credentials, Campbell points out that they could have been that much more imposing had it not been for some ill luck in a series of Group 1, one-mile races last season.

In May, Noverre won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) at Longchamps but was later disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance.

Then, after winning the Sussex at Goodwood, Noverre finished a troubled fourth before being promoted to third in Deauville's Prix Jacques le Marois and ended second to his stablemate, the pacemaker Summoner, over what Campbell termed "very soft ground" in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

And although he has been blanked in four starts this year Noverre has lost little luster while finishing second three times and third once in four outings, all on good going and in Group 1 company.

After finishing second when making his seasonal bow over 1 1/8 miles in the Dubai Duty Free on March 23, Noverre returned to England and was beaten 3 1/2 lengths as the runner-up to Keltos in the Group 1 Lockinge on May 18.

Keltos, who had been one of the early choices for the Breeders' Cup Mile but was retired with a fetlock injury last weekend, earned a Timeform rating of 132, the highest awarded to an older horse this year, for that win at Newbury.

"That race looks a little bit disappointing, but he ran a ran a good race," said Campbell, noting that Noverre had the upper hand on Keltos in their two encounters last year and that Dettori had not been riding in the Lockinge.

"He just hit the front a little bit soon. He wants plenty of cover; you have to produce his run pretty late."

In his next start, Noverre was beaten two lengths in the Sussex by Rock of Gibraltar, who was recording his sixth straight Group 1 win and is the Breeders' Cup Mile favorite.

And most recently, in the Juddmonte International at York, Noverre was beaten two lengths over the unfamiliar distance of about 1 1/4 miles.

"I think probably a mile is his best form," said Campbell.

Touch of the Blues looks primed

Touch of the Blues tuned up at Del Mar on Wednesday morning, working five furlongs on the turf in 1:00, and is slated to check in Friday along with fellow Atto Mile contestant Nuclear Debate.

"He's doing very well. I'm very pleased with the horse," said Neil Drysdale, who trains Touch of the Blues for Herrick Racing.

Touch of the Blues, a 5-year-old horse who was bred and raced in France and came to Drysdale following his 2000 campaign, recorded his first North American victory in Keeneland's Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile this April and has been pointing for the Atto Mile since finishing second in Del Mar's Wickerr on Aug. 2.

Both the Maker's Mark and Wickerr were run over one mile on firm turf.

"When we ran him at Del Mar, I liked his race a lot," said Drysdale. "The speed was holding, and he came from last.

"That just confirmed that we were going in the right direction, and the horse has done well since that race."

Drysdale, who will be making his fifth consecutive appearance in the Atto Mile, won the 1998 edition with Labeeb and sent out Hawksley Hill to finish first only to be disqualified and placed fourth the following year.

His entrant last year, Irish Prize, finished a close fourth after breaking from the outside in the field of 14. Touch of the Blues had been beaten a neck by Irish Prize in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile that spring and Drysdale considers the pair to be of roughly equal ability.

Wando gets some exercise

Wando, one of the leading local candidates for Sunday's $250,000 Summer Stakes, breezed five furlongs in 1:03.60 on the main track Wednesday.

"I didn't plan on breezing him," said Mike Keogh, who trains Wando for owner-breeder Gustav Schickedanz, "but he's been so sharp the last couple of days, I figured I better try and take some of the wind out of his sails."

Wando, a colt by Langfuhr out of Kathie's Colleen, is undefeated in two starts, including the six-furlong Vandal here Aug. 18, and will be making his turf debut in the one-mile Summer.