09/16/2004 11:00PM

One furlong too long?

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Soaring Free is 5 for 5 on turf this season, including a North American record win, but ventures beyond his best distance in Sunday's Atto Mile.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Soaring Free, the North American record-holder for seven furlongs on the grass, will try to master a distance he has yet to conquer in the $1 million at Woodbine on Sunday.

The Grade 1 turf race has one of the weakest fields in its seven-year history, and a strong local contingent could keep a large portion of the purse north of the border.

There are two excellent supporting features on the 11-race card, the Grade 2 Summer Stakes for 2-year-olds, and the Grade 2 Canadian Handicap for fillies and mares.

Soaring Free, last year's champion sprinter in Canada, has won all five of his grass races this year. Two starts back, in the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes, he led all the way, establishing the North American record for seven furlongs (1:19.38).

Three weeks ago, in the Grade 3 Play the King Handicap, Soaring Free stumbled when he bumped with a rival at the start of the seven-furlong turf race. After regrouping, he assumed a three-wide stalking position, took a clear lead early in the stretch, and then repelled two challenges to prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Mark Frostad, who trains Soaring Free and Atto outsider Surging River, was pleased with the way the freewheeling Soaring Free won the Play the King.

"He relaxed nicely in the race - he'll do that now," Frostad said. "Everybody thinks that he's got to have the lead, but he doesn't."

Frostad was content with Soaring Free's five-furlong bullet work in 59 seconds over the main track last Saturday, under jockey Todd Kabel.

"He was out three-quarters in 1:12 and change," Frostad said. "That's as good as he works. He's ready. I think he's as good now as he's ever been."

Perfect Soul, last year's Canadian champion turf horse, closed wide from far back to finish third behind runner-up Soaring Free in the 2003 Atto.

Perfect Soul ran a corker off a layoff in his season opener, taking the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile in course-record time at Keeneland, but things haven't gone smoothly for him since.

In the Grade 2 Firecracker BC Handicap on July 3 at Churchill, Perfect Soul was bumped hard while in the midst of his rally, and was promoted from third to second by disqualification. Last time, in the Grade 2 Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes, he found 1 3/8 miles too far, and never fired.

Perfect Soul is coming into the Atto in fine fettle, according to trainer Roger Attfield.

"He's doing really well," Attfield said. "I'd like to have a good pace to run at, and I'm sure we'll have that in there."

Slew Valley, who also was dull in the Chinese Cultural Centre, won back-to-back graded stakes here in the spring. Trainer Reade Baker said Slew Valley's two races before the Chinese Cultural Centre "were both dandies, and maybe he was due to throw a bad one."

Royal Regalia, trained by Justin Nixon, set Woodbine's one-mile course record of 1:31.84 when he won a $100,000 optional claimer July 1. Most recently, in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, he led until deep stretch before ending up third.

Three United States shippers are in the Atto lineup, including Millennium Dragon, who has finished second in three consecutive stakes, including the Grade 1 Manhattan. He's returning from a 10-week layoff, during which he missed several Saratoga stakes because of a hock injury.

Christine's Outlaw beat Millennium Dragon in capturing the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont in July, but finished up the course in the Fourstardave after failing to secure his preferred position on the front end.

Kathir, this year's Barbados Gold Cup winner, set the Monmouth Park course record for 1 1/16 miles when he won a June 27 allowance. He is coming off a narrow loss in the Grade 3 Oceanport Handicap.

Mobil was a last-minute entrant. He won the restricted Halton Stakes here two weeks ago, which came after a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

The Atto is part of the NTRA Pick 4, along with three stakes from Belmont Park - the Ruffian, Futurity, and Matron. There is no comparable wager available in Canada.

Woodbine will have Win 4 wagering on races 6 through 9.