10/15/2003 11:00PM

Phoenix Reach hits track, then comes back for more

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Many observers have been surprised by the training regimen Phoenix Reach has been following since arriving here last Sunday for the Canadian International.

Phoenix Reach, who is trained in England by Andrew Balding, was one of the first horses on the track when he went out at 6 a.m. Monday and Wednesday. But that did not mean his work was done, as the colt returned on both of those afternoons to canter on the turf course.

Simon Burgoyne, an assistant to Balding, seemed taken aback by the curiosity about Phoenix Reach's activities.

"He missed a couple of days last week, traveling and preparing for travel," said Burgoyne, who has been supervising Phoenix Reach's preparations with the help of exercise rider Simon Goswall. "If he was at home he'd be swimming, and then having a walk every evening.

"He's a horse who takes a bit of work. But, he enjoys going out so much."

Phoenix Reach, a 3-year-old, will attempt to win the Grade 1 Canadian International, a 1 1/2-mile turf race worth $1.5 million, in just his fifth lifetime start.

And while that has hardly been the career model envisioned by his connections, a victory by Phoenix Reach would not be a stretch. He comes into the race off a third-place finish in England's St. Leger, where he was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Brian Boru, the Canadian International favorite.

Phoenix Reach, bred in Ireland, showed promise in his only start at 2 when he finished second by a head in a seven-furlong maiden race at Salisbury on June 27. He would not reappear, however, for more than a year.

"Two days before his second start, he split his near fore pastern badly," Burgoyne said. "Every time we tried to start him back again, there were complications. Even beginning this year, we were wondering if he'd ever get straightened out."

Burgoyne said an intensive program of swimming was the key to getting Phoenix Reach back on track. When the colt returned at Newbury this July, he rewarded his connections with a 1 1/4-length maiden win over 1 1/2 miles of "good" ground.

"We thought he'd need the race," said Burgoyne. "And, he had desperate luck in the running. He was almost brought down early. He had to quicken twice and rally again to win."

Phoenix Reach also encountered trouble early in his next start but again prevailed, this time by a nose in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on "good" going at Goodwood.

Then came the St. Leger, in which Burgoyne again believed Phoenix Reach was unfortunate. Phoenix Reach, Burgoyne said, got stuck on the rail, not the place to be after four days of rain.

Burgoyne said Phoenix Reach had lacked focus early in the St. Leger, which is why blinkers will be added Sunday. The colt also will be running for the first time on Lasix, which is almost standard procedure for European imports.

"He's still babyish in his ways," said Burgoyne, but he added that Phoenix Reach has come a long way physically in recent weeks.

"Two months ago, he looked like a filly," Burgoyne said. "He's blossomed since then. After the St. Leger, he came out of the race so well, we decided to have a shot here."

Battlements wins Deputy Minister

Battlements prevailed as the heavy favorite here Wednesday night in the $129,000 Deputy Minister, a seven-furlong dash for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds.

The win was a meet-leading 26th stakes victory for jockey Todd Kabel, who had Battlements pressing the early pace set by Biddy's Lad. Biddy's Lad got the opening quarter in 22.27 seconds and was joined by Battlements through a wind-aided half in 44.68.

Battlements began to draw off at the eighth pole and got home on top, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Biddy's Lad. Executive Legacy finished third, while Mamba King and Obliquity completed the order of finish. The final time was 1:22.50.

Battlements ($2.80) earned $77,400 in his second stakes win of the meeting. He is owned by Minshall Farm and trained by Barbara Minshall, who also entered and scratched Snake Pit.

* Jockey Jim McAleney will serve a three-day suspension, Wednesday through Friday, after his appeal of an earlier ruling was denied by the Thoroughbred division of the Ontario Racing Industry Board of Appeal.

* Jockey Sunny Singh has been granted a medical extension on his apprenticeship of 241 racing days, which will run Oct. 6 through the end of this meeting, Nov. 30, and continue next spring, April 2 through Oct. 4.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink