06/22/2007 12:00AM

Pierce runner tops field


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Malcolm Pierce believes Stradivinsky is the best horse he has ever trained, and the 4-year-old gelding will try to justify that notion Sunday in the $200,000 Highlander Stakes, the supporting feature on Queen's Plate Day at Woodbine.

Stradivinsky has won 4 of 5 local outings since joining Pierce's barn last summer. Following a winter layoff, he romped in the six-furlong Jacques Cartier Stakes on April 14, earning a whopping 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

In his first turf attempt for Pierce, Stradivinsky captured the allowance prep for the Highlander much more easily than the winning margin of 1 3/4 lengths suggests. He got a 101 Beyer in the six-furlong dash. The Highlander will be run over the same course and distance.

"It was his first time on this turf course, and I think he was a little surprised by how long the lane is," Pierce said. "He switched back to his left lead before the wire when he got a little tired. His numbers are a little better on the Polytrack, but he handles the turf fine."

Stradivinsky breezed five furlongs on the Polytrack in a sizzling 58.80 seconds last Sunday, which was the fastest of 54 moves at the distance.

"I was very happy with the way he worked," Pierce said. "He does everything so easily."

The Grade 3 event has lured last year's winner, Marco Be Good, along with three U.S. shippers - Smart Enough, Heros Reward, and The Nth Degree.

Marco Be Good finished second in his seasonal debut in the New Providence Stakes on the Polytrack. In his next race, he chased Stradivinsky throughout the prep and held second by a neck.

"He got a lot out of his first start of the year," trainer John Ross said. "He came back in the prep, and I thought it was a great effort to finish second to Stradivinsky. He seems to be on his game right now. The thing I'm hoping for is a good firm turf like last year, and I'd like to see him settle a little off the pace, like he did last year."

Smart Enough won three turf stakes last year, including two at Monmouth, where he was victorious in this year's season opener in the 5 1/2-furlong Wolf Hill Stakes.

Heros Reward has won his last four outings, all at five furlongs, including the $100,000 Baltimore City Turf Sprint Stakes at Pimlico.

The Nth Degree posted a 12-1 upset in the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland in his penultimate start.