11/28/2006 1:00AM

Palace Pier in Lassie for sharp barn


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Darwin Banach has had a solid season as the private trainer for Bill Sorokolit Sr. and Bill Sorokolit Jr., sending out 16 winners from 90 starters heading into the last two weeks of the Woodbine meeting.

The undisputed star of Banach's barn has been Sky Conqueror, winner of two Grade 2 stakes and the likely winner of the Sovereign Award as Canada's male turf champion of 2006 at the downtown Toronto ceremony on Dec. 16.

In the meantime, Banach will be looking to add another stakes win to his portfolio when he sends out Palace Pier in Saturday's $150,000 Ontario Lassie, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-foaled 2-year-old fillies.

Palace Pier, owned and bred by Sorokolit Sr., will be making her fifth start in the Ontario Lassie after graduating at 1 1/16 miles under jockey Todd Kabel here Nov. 4.

"She's doing fantastic," said Banach. "We were considering an a-other-than for her, but they weren't filling. Todd said if you're going to run her in a stakes, now's the time."

Palace Pier began her career on Aug. 20, finishing fourth over seven furlongs on0 turf under Kabel in the allowance prep for the Natalma Stakes.

"She'd worked best on turf," said Banach. "That was before the Polytrack came out, and we didn't want to run a lot on the inner dirt course."

Brought back three weeks later in the Grade 3 Natalma, a one-mile turf race, Palace Pier was prominent early under Jono Jones but faltered to finish 11th in the field of 13.

"I really don't know what happened," said Banach. "Jono said she took a bad step coming around the turn, and he just kind of stopped on her."

In her next start, on Polytrack here Sept. 20, Palace Pier broke from the outside post in the field of 11 under jockey Justin Stein.

"We had to send her to get her out there," said Banach. "She got a little tired at the end.

"But in her last race, Todd got her to settle and she came with a nice run."

Sky Conqueror is turned out

Sky Conqueror, also owned and bred by Sorokolit Sr., left the racetrack a couple of weeks ago and is at Richard Moylan's Hunterview Farm in nearby Orangeville.

"He's doing really good," said Banach. "He's getting a little R and R. He could run next at Gulfstream, or wait for Keeneland."

Sky Conqueror, a 4-year-old colt, earned $894,170 with 3 wins and 3 thirds in 6 starts this season. In his last start, Sky Conqueror finished an unlucky third in the Grade 1, $2 million Canadian International.

Polytrack gives Pellegrino a boost

Pellegrino, a 7-year-old horse owned by Gary Tanaka, was expected to be a force in the turf division here this year after opening his campaign with an upset win in Keeneland's Grade 3 Elkhorn in his first start for trainer Roger Attfield.

But Pellegrino failed to reproduce his best form over the 1 1/2-mile Woodbine turf course, failing to finish in the top three in any of his four starts on the course.

Pellegrino, however, has taken a liking to the Polytrack oval and will be staying in town for the $125,000 Valedictory here Dec. 10.

"He wasn't doing so well on the bigger turf course here," said Attfield, who checked into Payson Park in Florida on Monday to join his assistant, Rachel Halder, in setting up the stable's winter operation. "But he trains like gangbusters over the Polytrack. At least now he's running and trying. Everybody thought he deserved a chance at the Valedictory.

"Rather than move him to run in Florida, it made more sense to run him there."

Pellegrino finished third in his Polytrack debut in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Durham Cup here Oct. 14 and came back two weeks later and scored an upset the 1 1/4-mile Chief Bearhart.

In his last outing, here on Nov. 18, Pellegrino was beaten 7 1/2 lengths as the fourth-place finisher in the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Woodbine Slots Cup. The winner, True Metropolitan, also is pointed toward the 1 3/4-mile Valedictory.

"My horse ran a creditable race, I thought," said Attfield.

Eccentric likely to get down time

Eccentric, a 5-year-old horse whom Attfield trains for Tanaka, also was nominated to the Valedictory but will not be running.

"I haven't got anything planned for him right now," said Attfield. "He wouldn't like the hard turf course in Florida, for sure.

"He may have a little bit of down time. We'll look at Hollywood and Turfway, probably, in the winter.

"We want him for next year up there, and Gary's not the type of owner that keeps pushing to run them and run them."

Eccentric, an all-weather track specialist when campaigning in England at age 3 and 4, came to Attfield this spring and finished third behind Sky Conqueror in his local debut in an open allowance race over one mile of good turf here Oct. 8.

Three weeks later, Eccentric shipped to Keeneland for the Grade 3 Fayette and was a three-quarter-length winner at 1 1/8 miles.

In his next and latest appearance, in the Slots Cup, Eccentric was well back early and failed to sustain a rally while ending up third.

"He lost his hind end coming out of the gate," said Attfield. "It took him three-sixteenths of a mile to get himself balanced and organized.

"He came out of it okay, that was the main thing."