05/21/2003 11:00PM

Pierce comes into Connaught armed with fresh Silver Spear

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Malcolm Pierce took a swing at the 2001 Connaught Cup with Silver Axe, who finished third in the race's first division.

Saturday, Pierce will be hoping to wield a sharper weapon in Silver Spear, who will be making his 2003 debut in the 1 1/16-mile feature, the first turf stakes of the Woodbine meeting.

"I wasn't planning on this being his first start of the year," said Pierce. "But we're going to go in and take a look. I think my horse is fit enough."

Silver Spear, a Kentucky-bred 5-year-old owned by Stronach Stable, will be looking for his initial stakes win in the Connaught Cup.

He has come close to achieving that goal on two previous occasions. Silver Spear was beaten a nose as the runner-up in the 2001 Franklin at Keeneland and three-quarters of a length when second here in last fall's Labeeb.

"Last year, we were really behind the eight-ball with him," said Pierce, who did not start Silver Spear here until late August. "He spent the winter at Gulfstream, and needed a break."

This time around, Silver Spear is coming in fresh after wintering at Stronach's Adena Springs North.

Pierce has two threats for Nassau

No one will welcome the opening of the E.P. Taylor turf course more than Pierce, who has been the leading trainer in turf wins here the past two seasons.

Two good reasons for Pierce's enthusiasm are Hot Talent and Diadella, who have the potential to be major forces in the filly and mare turf division.

Both are nominated to next Sunday's Grade 2 Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes with a purse of $250,000.

Hot Talent, an Ontario-bred 4-year-old, was a stakes winner and a Sovereign Award finalist last year in her first campaign. She comes into the Nassau off an impressive score in the allowance prep, which was scheduled for turf but run over a mile and 70 yards on the main track here last Sunday.

"I'm going to play it by ear," said Pierce of running Hot Talent in the Nassau. "It looks like she came out of her race in good order and it's really tempting to run her back, even if it's only two weeks."

Diadella, a Kentucky-bred 6-year-old, was being pointed for the E.P. Taylor Stakes here last fall but had to be put away for the season after being injured during her second-place finish in the Canadian Handicap.

"It ended up being a tibia fracture," said Pierce. "They gave her a few months off, it healed up and she was put back in training."

Diadella wintered at Adena Springs South but has been back at Woodbine for only a couple of weeks.

"My gut feeling is she won't be quite ready for the Nassau," said Pierce. "But it's fantastic to have her back; she's a lovely filly."

Lord Shogun skips Connaught

Lord Shogun, a 4-year-old gelding who had shipped in from Vancouver with an eye toward the Connaught Cup, is not in the lineup after finishing last of nine in the allowance prep last Friday.

That race, scheduled for seven furlongs on turf, was switched to the main track and run in sloppy going.

"He hurt himself a little bit, but he will be fine," said trainer Rob VanOverschot from his Hastings Park base. "The last two days, he trained great."

VanOverschot will be looking for another turf opportunity for Lord Shogun, who was undefeated in four starts and a Sovereign Award finalist last year.

Illusive Force, who accompanied stablemate Lord Shogun for the trip east, remains on track for an appearance in the June 22 Queen's Plate after finishing fourth, beaten 10 3/4 lengths, in the Marine here last Saturday.

"That was good enough," said VanOverschot, who noted that Illusive Force had lost quite a bit of weight prior to that race, his first appearance here. "He's eating good now, and he's doing well. I expect a big improvement from him next time he runs."

Illusive Force is slated to bypass next Sunday's Plate Trial and run in the June 8 Victoria Park, an open race for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

Added Edge back in training

Added Edge, Canada's champion 2-year-old male and a finalist in last year's Sovereign Award voting for horse of the year, worked three furlongs in 36.40 seconds here Thursday, his first local work of the year.

Owned by Team Valor and Robert Wilson, Added Edge had emerged from his last-place finish in Gulfstream's Jan. 18 Holy Bull with a chip fracture in his right knee. That loss was the first in five career appearances for Added Edge, whose wins last year included Aqueduct's Grade 3 Nashua and the Swynford and Silver Deputy here.

"We're just happy to have him back," said Greg DeGannes, an assistant to trainer Mark Casse.

Added Edge started back galloping at Moonshadow Farm in Ocala, Fla., about five weeks ago.

"He's quite fit," said DeGannes, adding that there is no timetable for Added Edge's return to racing.

* Jim Bannon, Woodbine television analyst and handicapper, will host the second in a series of six teaching seminars at 11 a.m. here Saturday. The one-hour seminar will take place on the east side of the second floor of the grandstand.