04/14/2004 11:00PM

An opening day worth waiting for

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Chris's Bad Boy, Woodbine's six-furlong track record holder, will help get the meeting off to a fast start in Saturday's opening day feature, the $135,750 Jacques Cartier Stakes.

The 167-day stand, which will have an average overnight purse distribution of $415,000, is scheduled to conclude Dec. 12. The meeting's highlights are the $1 million Queen's Plate on June 27, the Grade 1 Atto Mile on Sept. 19, and the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International on Oct. 24.

Opening day was pushed back a month this year because of extensive barn renovations on the backstretch. Racing will be conducted on Saturdays and Sundays the first two weeks of the meet. Fridays will be added beginning April 30 and Wednesdays and Thursdays begin the next week.

Chris's Bad Boy was one of the Cinderella stories of the 2003 Ontario racing season. A 7-year-old who captured the Prelude Stakes at 3, Chris's Bad Boy competed for as little as a $10,000 claiming price in the fall of 2001 at Fort Erie.

Chris's Bad Boy began to blossom again here last April, when trainer Vito Armata claimed him from a win for $47,500. He won six of his next nine outings, and capped his remarkable campaign with a decisive score in the Kennedy Road Stakes, in which he set the six-furlong track record of 1:08.05, receiving a Beyer Speed Figure of 114.

Armata gave Chris's Bad Boy the winter off after the Nov. 29 Kennedy Road.

"He had about eight weeks off," Armata said, "and we started him up in February. He's been working very nicely. He worked five-eighths in 58 and change one day, and the jockey never moved on him. I think he's ready. The way I see it, they'll have to run to beat him."

Armata compared Chris's Bad Boy to Gary Roberts, the rugged power forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"He gives you everything he's got," Armata said. "It's like having Gary Roberts on your team. He's had his problems, but he's overcome them. He's the heart of the barn."

Jono Jones has the mount on Chris's Bad Boy, who has amassed $525,038 in career earnings.

Rounding out the field for the six-furlong Jacques Cartier are I'm the Tiger, Fantastic Day, Forever Grand, Anglian Prince, Slim Dusty, and Dawn Watcher.

I'm the Tiger could be the favorite because of the company he has been keeping. A 4-year-old owned by Stronach Stable, I'm the Tiger spent the winter with trainer Danny Vella in Florida, where he earned a Beyer Figure of 109 for finishing a close second to Alke in a Jan. 8 optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. Alke subsequently upset Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cajun Beat in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap, before ending up second in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen.

I'm the Tiger has been idle since he was victorious in a $75,000 optional claimer at Gulfstream on Feb. 14. Vella said he was pleased with the gelding's two Gulfstream performances.

"I think the form speaks for itself," Vella said. "They were fairly tough races, and he ran pretty well."

One of I'm the Tiger's better efforts came here last spring in the six-furlong Woodstock Stakes, which he lost by a neck to future Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando.

Trainer Bob Tiller, who won last year's Jacques Cartier with Rare Friends, entered Forever Grand and Fantastic Day.

Forever Grand, the 124-pound highweight, was runner-up in the 2003 Sovereign Award voting for both champion older horse and champion sprinter. He won four stakes last year with a late-running style.

Fantastic Day is making his stakes debut. He also had a productive 2003, winning 5 of 11 starts and banking $221,456.

"I'm running Fantastic Day because he's lost all of his [allowance] conditions," Tiller said. "It's a tough spot, but we need to run him somewhere. He worked awfully well the other day - that's why I'm running him."