04/26/2007 11:00PM

Ookashada sharp for season debut


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The connections of local champion Ookashada will soon find out if he will be able to carry his excellent 2-year-old form over to his 3-year-old year.

Ookashada will make his 2007 debut in the colts and geldings division of the CTHS Sales Stakes on Sunday at Hastings. From the sensational way he has been training, it looks like Ookashada will be among the leaders of the local 3-year-old division.

Of his last five workouts, four have been the best of the day at Hastings, and his trainer, Toni Cloutier, is very happy with the way he has developed over the winter.

Mark Cloutier, Toni's husband and assistant trainer, is more comfortable than Toni talking about their operation.

"He's put on weight and he's handling everything we've thrown at him extremely well," Mark Cloutier said. "He's been working really fast but well within himself, and he comes back happy and full of himself."

Pedro Alvarado has been the regular rider of Ookashada and he has the mount on Sunday. Mario Gutierrez, who rides the main threat in the Sales Stakes, Thesaratogaexpress, was aboard for Ookashada's last couple of works.

"We wanted a light rider that would just let him do it on his own, and Mario suits him perfectly," Cloutier said. "Also, Pedro is the top rider here and if he ends up switching to another horse down the line, well, at least Mario would know the horse if he was available."

Ookashada lost some weight and was a tired horse after he won the Ascot Graduation Breeders' Cup last October, according to Cloutier. His owners, Mike Boylan and T D Stables, were considering sending Ookashada to Delta Downs for the $1omillion Delta Downs Jackpot, a 1o1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds last Dec. 1, but ultimately passed the race.

"They really wanted to go, and if he was perfect we probably would have sent him," said Cloutier. "But he ran very hard in his last couple of races and he really needed the rest. People down there were also telling Mike that the race was coming up weak. For a million bucks, I had my doubts that would be the case."

Mark Cloutier didn't have any doubts about what kind of care Ookashada would receive when they turned him out for the winter.

"We spent the winter at Toni's parents farm in Langley," he said. "He was treated like a king and it shows in how good he came back to the track. They did a great job."

Toni Cloutier's mom, Dixie Jacobson, is a prominent breeder and is the president of the local Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society.

Neither Mark Cloutier nor Troy Taylor, who trains Thesaratogaexpress, is predicting how the race will be run. Both horses appear to want the lead, although Ookashada appears to be a bit more versatile at this stage of his career.

"He's so fresh right now that I wouldn't be surprised if he broke sharply and put himself right on the lead," said Cloutier. "We're not going to give Pedro any instructions other than to let him run his own race."

Thesaratogaexpress has had the lead at the first call in all three of his races. When he beat Ookashada in the CTHS Sales Stakes last year he had the inside post, which gave him a bit of an edge going into both turns.

"We're outside of Ookashada this time, so I don't know if we'll be in front or not," said Taylor.

This will be the first official start of the year for a Taylor-trained horse. That's a bit misleading.

Taylor, 75, doesn't like to travel as much as he used to. When he shipped a couple of horses to Stampede Park they ran under his assistant's name, Malcolm Beveridge. Both horses, Complicit Swiss and Arkansas Bankroll, won. Taylor also shipped Complicit Swiss to Emerald Downs, where he was saddled by Taylor's good friend Terry Gillihan. Complicit Swiss finished first but had his number taken down. Obviously, Taylor's horses are running well right now.

"You could say we're undefeated so far," said Taylor. "I expect a good race from Thesaratogaexpress, but Ookashada really improved at the end of last year and I'm not sure how far forward we've come. We'll just have to wait and see."

Owners pitch in to boost stakes

When Hastings released its stakes schedule last winter there were 25 stakes that were valued at $45,000, a $5,000 reduction from last year's minimum. Glen Todd, who is a part owner of Thesaratogaexpress, wasn't happy with the reduction and put his money where his mouth is, donating $25,000 into the stakes program.

Other local owners followed suit, and according to Raj Mutti, Hastings's director of operations, 22 of the 25 stakes have been bumped up to $50,000.

"It was Glen's idea and it just shows what type of people we have involved in horse racing here," said Mutti. "I'm pretty sure we'll get the last three up to $50,000 as well."