11/09/2006 12:00AM

Pace may aid late-closing Gold Fish


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Maple Leaf Stakes is a source of pleasant memories for trainer Tom O' Keefe, who sent out his pride and joy Wings of Erin to win back-to-back runnings of the Maple Leaf in 1995 and 1996.

But the present will be on O'Keefe's mind at Woodbine Saturday, when he sends out Gold Fish in the $175,000 Maple Leaf, a 1 1/4-mile race for fillies and mares which has attracted a field of seven.

Gold Fish comes into the Maple Leaf off a fourth-place finish in the five-horse Maple Leaf allowance prep, a 1 1/8-mile race here Oct. 20.

"In her last race there was a very, very slow pace," said O'Keefe, who also is part of Hi Five Racing, the group that owns Gold Fish. "She was sitting back, and everybody kicked at the same time. You can't close on a pace like that."

On Saturday, Gold Fish should have an honest pace to run at with the likes of Howaboutrightnow and Silver Highlight joining front-running prep winner Foamy Water in the Maple Leaf lineup.

Gold Fish also will have a new rider in Todd Kabel, whose 12 stakes winners at the meeting have him in at tie with Jim McAleney atop that category.

Still, Gold Fish's mere presence in stakes company has to rank as something of a success since the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old filly began her career with a $32,000 claiming tag here in June 2005.

"She was very precocious as a

2-year-old," said O'Keefe. "I don't normally run my babies too soon but she was showing plenty of speed in the mornings.

"She just had none in the afternoons."

Gold Fish wound up her first campaign winless in eight starts, although she finished in the money seven times and picked up checks on all but one occasion while banking $30,877. "I was high on her as a 2-year-old," said O'Keefe. "She kind of disappointed me."

O'Keefe still believed in Gold Fish's potential, however, and developed a new game plan in concert with the filly's former regular rider Emma-Jayne Wilson.

"When this year started out we decided to just drop her off the pace, and make one run," said O'Keefe.

That tactic paid off when Gold Fish stretched out for her second start of the season and rallied from last place in a field of seven as a going-away winner of a 1 1/16-mile "B" maiden special.

Next came two respectable efforts over 1 1/16 miles of turf, in which Gold Fish indicated that she probably could have used more ground on that surface, followed by a come-from-behind win at 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy inner track.

But it was the La Lorgnette, an open 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies here Sept. 23, that marked Gold Fish's true emergence.

Well back in the field of 10 in the early stages, Gold Fish rallied strongly and fell just a half-length short of Vestrey Lady, a Kentucky-bred who was recording her second straight stakes victory and has come back and run second in the Grade 2 $300,000 Raven Run at Keeneland.

"Everything went right for her," said O'Keefe. "The pace was hot enough, and she fired like crazy. Two more strides, and she would have won it.

"She really loves the Polytrack," he added. "She's adapted well to it."

Moon Path wins maiden in stakes

Moon Path won her maiden in grand style here Wednesday night, taking the $125,800 South Ocean Stakes with a strong rally under Wilson.

Moon Path raced about six lengths off the lead on the backstretch of the 1o1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired

2-year-old fillies. She made some headway on the far turn while being hard ridden, and then overhauled the tiring leaders inside the eighth pole en route to a one-length victory in a time of 1:49.

La Gran Leslie closed for second at 14-1, finishing a neck in front of Empress Indeed, who had set fractions of 24.18 and 49.59 seconds. Grandy's Glory, the 9-5 favorite, faded to trail in the seven-horse field after tracking Empress Indeed through the far turn.

Wilson said she had expected Moon Path to acquit herself well in her first two-turn attempt.

"She was a late runner going seven-eighths of a mile," said Wilson. "I just wanted to get her relaxed and comfortable. I figured the pace would be slow, and she was fairly close tonight."

Moon Path, a $150,000 yearling purchase by Sam-Son Farm, earned $75,000. Mark Frostad trains the daughter of Perigee Moon, who returned $6.10. It was the seventh stakes win of the meet for both Frostad and Wilson.

Winding down

The training track, which has been lightly used since the Polytrack made its debut in late August, will be open for the last time this year on Sunday.

The stable area will close on Dec. 10, three days after the scheduled conclusion of the meeting.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink