10/21/2009 12:00AM

Pierce enjoying a career-best year

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Photos by Z/Keeneland
El Brujo, trained by Malcolm Pierce, wins the Grade 3 Perryville at Keeneland last Saturday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Malcolm Pierce soon will begin gradually winding down his operation here, preparing for his annual excursion to New Orleans and the Fair Grounds meeting. But regardless of what may happen here between now and the closing-day program of Dec. 6, the 2009 meeting here will go down as the best for Pierce and his wife and assistant, Sally.

"It's by far my best year," said Pierce, 51, who spent some 17 years working as an assistant trainer in the Sam-Son Farm operation before striking out on his own in 1998. "Eleven stakes here and two in Kentucky - I haven't had a year like that."

Heading into this week, Pierce's 11 stakes wins were tops at the meeting. His 35 wins here placed him in a three-way tie for seventh, and his almost $2.8 million in earnings ranked third. All three totals were personal bests for Pierce at the Woodbine meeting.

"I just had the right horses," said Pierce.

Among those Pierce horses who have had the right stuff is El Brujo, who recorded his fourth stakes win of the season last Saturday when he overcame a troubled trip to capture the Grade 3 Perryville over about seven furlongs at Keeneland. El Brujo had won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park in his start prior to the Perryville, and launched his campaign here with back-to-back victories in the Achievement and Queenston.

El Brujo, a 3-year-old gelding who races for Windways Farm, may not be through for the season.

"The Kennedy Road is a possibility," said Pierce, with reference to the Grade 3, six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and upward here Nov. 21. "But he's also had a pretty full year. It wouldn't bother me to freshen him up and take him to Fair Grounds, either."

Sterwins is scheduled to make his final start of the season here in either the Nov. 1 Labeeb or the Nov. 14 Autumn. The Labeeb is a $100,000 overnight stakes over one mile of turf, while the $150,000 Autumn is a Grade 2 race at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

Sterwins, a 6-year-old gelding, won the Grade 3 Connaught Cup on turf and the With Approval for Ontario foals over Polytrack. He also finished third in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile. In his most recent start, Sterwins finished fifth in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.

"He just didn't handle the soft turf," said Pierce. "He came back in good order."

Another of Pierce's stakes winners, Mullins Beach, also turned in a subpar performance over a soft Keeneland turf course in last Friday's Franklin County, running sixth in the 5 1/2-furlong race.

"The turf killed her chances, too," said Pierce.

Mullins Beach won a pair of stakes for 3-year-old fillies here this year, the open La Voyageuse and the Ontario Damsel for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old.

Pierce also has sent out 3-year-old fillies Carem Crescent and Double Malt to win stakes races here this year.

Carem Crescent has won 3 of her 5 starts, including the open Duchess, and added a second-place finish in the open Ontario Colleen. After weakening to finish fourth in the Grade 3 Selene over 1 1/16 miles, Carem Crescent will be cutting back to seven furlongs for the Jammed Lovely, a $150,000 race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies here Nov. 15.

Double Malt won three consecutive Ontario-sired stakes for 3-year-old fillies at the meeting before finishing fourth against older fillies and mares in the restricted Classy 'n Smart. Double Malt's stakes victories came in the Passing Mood and La Prevoyante on the turf course and the Eternal Search on the main track.

Double Malt is owned by Mike Ambler and partners. Carem Crescent, Mullins Beach and Sterwins all are homebreds who race for Eugene and Laura Melnyk.

The Pierce-trained Points of Grace won the Grade 2 Dance Smartly on turf here July 11. In two subsequent appearances, Points of Grace finished a respectable fifth in the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington and a close fourth in the Grade 2 Canadian here.

Much Obliged was beaten just a head as the third-place finisher in the Canadian for Pierce and Pin Oak Stable. Pierce plans to split up Points of Grace and Much Obliged, with one contesting the $100,000 River Memories over one mile of turf here and the other the $60,000 Blushing K.D. Handicap over 1 1/16 miles of turf on the opening day of the Fair Grounds meeting.

My Imperial Dancer takes stakes shot

My Imperial Dancer, the senior member of the field at age 7, will try to make his presence felt here in Saturday's $125,000 Bunty Lawless. The Bunty Lawless, a one-mile turf race, has drawn an unusually salty field of Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward, including Rahy's Attorney, Sand Cove and Society's Chairman.

"It's going to be a tough race, but we've decided to give him a shot," said Norm McKnight, who trains My Imperial Dancer for Joe and Maria Stritzl.

My Imperial Dancer won the 2007 running of the Halton, a one-mile turf race, and was beaten a nose by Society's Chairman as the runner-up in last year's renewal. Making his first start since then here July 31, My Imperial Dancer dipped in for a $40,000 claiming price and recorded a solid score over 6 1/2 furlongs of turf, which set him up for another Halton try. He finished third, and since then My Imperial Dancer has made two starts, both at the $40,000 claiming level, finishing a close second over seven furlongs of turf and winning an off-the-turf race at one mile and 70 yards on the main track.

"That last race was a surprise," said McKnight. "I have to give credit to Joe and Maria. I wanted to scratch him and they wanted to let him run. He's run a couple of times before on Polytrack and hasn't done that well - the difference in competition helped. Now that he's a Poly horse, he's extended his season."