04/09/2009 12:00AM

Plate hopefuls try to shake off rust

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The road to the 150th running of the Queen's Plate on June 21 begins Saturday at Woodbine with the $150,000 Achievement Stakes. All seven entrants in the six-furlong sprint for Ontario-breds are coming off a winter break, and handicappers must ponder their readiness.

Bucephalus debuted on Plate Day last year, finishing second in a five-furlong maiden special. He subsequently won his maiden in the 5 1/2-furlong Clarendon Stakes, while defeating two of his Saturday rivals, El Brujo and Silver Rocket.

In his last start Aug. 10, Bucephalus finished a fading fifth as the favorite in the six-furlong Vandal Stakes. He trained over the deep dirt surface at Payson Park in Florida during the winter.

"I had to put him away after the Vandal," said trainer Kevin Attard. "He's always been a big horse, and he's grown up. He may need this race. We haven't honed down on him, but he should be pretty fit coming off this track. If he takes to the Poly right off the get-go, then he should make a good account of himself."

El Brujo hit the board in each of his six starts, including in four stakes, but he has yet to win a stakes.

El Brujo finished a close second in both the Clarendon and the Vandal, and was a half-length back in third in the Swynford Stakes. After ending up second in the nine-furlong Coronation Futurity in November, he spent the winter at Fair Grounds, where he was working on a regular schedule.

El Brujo breezed five-eighths in 1:01.80 last Saturday at Keeneland, much to the delight of trainer Malcolm Pierce.

"It was a very good work," said Pierce. "I actually caught him going a second faster than what the clockers gave him. He's been doing good, but he's coming off a layoff, which is the only concern - that he doesn't have a race under his belt. The object with this horse is to try to get him to run a mile and a quarter by late June."

Trainer Nick Gonzalez entered Win and Reign, My Bad, and Foxy Lion, who all worked five-eighths together on the Polytrack April 4.

Win and Reign won his maiden in the restricted Vandal, before dropping the open Swynford by a neck to eventual Canadian champion 2-year-old Mine That Bird.

My Bad and Foxy Lion both graduated in Ontario-sired maiden special company in October.