06/15/2001 12:00AM

One-horse barn set for Nearctic


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - While the spotlight here next Sunday will be squarely upon the Queen's Plate, the Nearctic Handicap deserves more than a life in the shadows.

The Nearctic, a six-furlong turf race, will offer Grade 2 status and a purse in the neighborhood of $220,000. And it's quite possible that no one is awaiting the race more anxiously than Richard Saland, who is the breeder, owner, and trainer of Airbourne Command.

"I thought this was the type of horse who would take me on the road," said Saland, as he watched Airbourne Command, the 6-year-old gelding who currently is his only runner, jog on the main track here Friday morning. "And he has, but I wish I wasn't on the road this long"

Saland, who has been in the racing game for 27 of his 49 years, is a native New Yorker and kept company with the likes of Foolish Pleasure and Honest Pleasure when he worked with trainer Leroy Jolley in the mid-1970's.

But he has spent the last 22 years in Lexington, Ky., working mainly on area farms, including Gainesway and Hamburg Place. His familiarity with broodmares led him to acquire Antique Glow, the dame of Airbourne Command, at auction.

Antique Glow, a Kentucky-bred, raced only five times, all as a 2-year-old, for Kinghaven Farm and trainer John Tammaro. She won two races here and finished third in Detroit's Reward Stakes.

"She was well-bred, but she was a problem mare," said Saland, noting that Antique Glow aborted three times before foaling Airbourne Command in 1995.

Airbourne Command, unstarted at 2, made the first eight appearances of his career on dirt but has found his niche since moving to turf as a 4-year-old. While his first 10 grass races were at a mile or 1 1/16 miles, he shortened up to five furlongs in Florida this March and has been in the best form of his career for his last three races.

"He's learned how to relax behind horses, and come from off the pace," said Saland, who watched Airbourne Command finish a troubled third in Gulfstream's Yankee Affair and go on to win Keeneland's 5 1/2-furlong Shakertown and to finish a close fourth in Churchill's Aegon Turf Sprint.

"When you're a one-horse stable, it's hard to get people to let you work behind them so you can teach a horse how to rate. Before, when he was running a mile, he ended up getting cooked in speed duels all the time."

Airbourne Command checked in at Woodbine early this month to contest the June 2 prep for the Neartic, but was scratched when the race came off the turf.

"I'd taken him to New York, for the Jaipur, but he got rained out there," said Saland, who is based in Lexington and had shipped to Belmont for the May 27 Jaipur, scheduled for seven furlongs of turf.

Saland learned of the Nearctic prep from assistant trainer Greg DeGannes, who was in New York to saddle Exciting Story for Mark Casse for the Metropolitan Handicap

"I thought, 'I'm already here, in the east,' " said Saland, "and to find sprint grass races is a little tough. So I came up here, but then I got rained out again."

But as the master of a one-horse stable, Saland had no pressing reason to leave town.

"Instead of shipping him back and forth, I decided to keep him up here, and have a bit of a home field advantage," he said. "I think six furlongs is the perfect distance for him, and this is probably the best turf course in North America.

"He should love it - I hope he loves it."

Airbourne Command has been weighted at 118 pounds for the Nearctic. The topweight, at 120 pounds, is Texas Glitter, who is coming off a second-place finish in the Jaipur and is expected to ship in for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Plate may be smallest in years

If no more than 10 horses go to the post in the Queen's Plate, which would seem to be a distinct possibility, then the field would be the smallest since Dance Smartly defeated eight rivals in the 1991 edition.

Dance Smartly was the key to a three-horse Sam-Son entry that was sent off at 1-2 that year. Her stablemates, Wilderness Song and Rainbows for Life, finished second and fourth.

Dancethruthedawn, a daughter of Dance Smartly, will head another solid Sam-Son entry this year, with Lucky Scarab her running-mate. Gary Boulanger retains the mount on Labatt Woodbine Oaks winner Dancethruthedawn, while Todd Kabel has the call on Lucky Scarab, who won his maiden last time out.

And while the wagering public probably will favor the twosome, there also will be solid support for Win City, who capped a three-race stakes-winning streak in the Plate Trial under regular rider Constant Montpellier.

Other Plate probables include Millennium Allstar (Robert Landry), Brushing Bully (David Clark), Thatsthebottomline (Ray Sabourin), Dawn Watcher (Richard Dos Ramos), Wild Years (Richard Migliore), Highland Legacy (indefinite); and Jimmy's Prize (indefinite).

*Sean Smullen, who took over as trainer for Colebrook Farm, saddled his first winner here Thursday when Cool Brook took the fourth race for a $46.60 payoff.

*Apprentice jockey Chantal Sutherland has been suspended three racing days, beginning Sunday, after the stewards ruled she came in with her mount, Carazi, and interfered with Lucky Old Sun, who was ridden by Mickey Walls, in last Sunday's ninth race.