06/18/2006 11:00PM

A Plate horse of his own this time

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Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Flaming Heart (4) wins the Hill 'n' Dale in her first start for trainer Brian Lynch.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Wild Desert, last year's Queen's Plate winner, was stabled in Brian Lynch's barn here at Woodbine then.

But Lynch's thrill was nothing more than vicarious. Wild Desert, who had arrived during Queen's Plate week, was running in the name of trainer Bobby Frankel, who was subbing for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who was serving a suspension at the time.

Although Frankel was nominally in charge of a Stronach Stable string here last year, Lynch was the man on the scene throughout the season.

Lynch, who returned this year as Stronach's No. 1 trainer at Woodbine, will be looking to have a Queen's Plate experience of a more personal sort when he sends out Malakoff in Sunday's $1 million, 1 1/4-mile showpiece for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Malakoff, a colt by Lemon Drop Kid out of multiple Woodbine stakes winner Last Vice, saw action just once at 2, finishing second in a six-furlong sprint here Nov. 4.

"Obviously, with that kind of pedigree, we always hoped he'd be a Plate horse," said Lynch. "With racing, he's been progressively getting better and better."

Malakoff tried turf in his second career start, finishing a close third at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 4 at Gulfstream.

But it was Malakoff's next outing, a second-place finish in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Gulfstream on April 4, that convinced Lynch that the Queen's Plate was an attainable goal.

Lynch said Malakoff had lost some training time after his first race because of shin trouble.

"The way he ran in that mile-and-an-eighth race, being light on training, was very big," he said. "He was the only horse still running at the end."

Back at Woodbine four weeks later, Malakoff was a workmanlike winner of a 1 1/16-mile maiden special.

"That was kind of close to his shipping, and he obviously needed his maiden race," said Lynch. "But, he ran fantastic in the Marine."

The Grade 3 Marine, a 1 1/16-mile race here May 20, was indeed a breakthrough race for Malakoff, who scored by 7 1/4 lengths under his regular Woodbine partner, Todd Kabel.

Malakoff's Beyer Speed Figure of 92 was an improvement of 11 points over his previous best.

And Lynch, a disciple of the Ragozin sheets, sees Malakoff following a pattern similar to what he witnessed with some top performers during his days as an assistant to Frankel.

"Going by the Ragozin sheets," said Lynch, "he's going to run his best number" in the Queen's Plate.

Quick score with new filly

Lynch warmed up for his big day at the Plate by sending out Flaming Heart to win the $100,000 Hill 'n' Dale at 1 1/16 miles here on Saturday.

Flaming Heart, a Kentucky-bred 5-year-old who had made her first 11 career starts for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on the New York circuit, joined Lynch here this spring with an eye toward the local filly/mare stakes program.

And the decision paid immediate dividends, as Flaming Heart, making her first appearance since finishing second in the Grade 3 Next Move at Aqueduct on March 26, prevailed by a half-length in the Hill 'n' Dale under Kabel.

"She's a real grinder," said Lynch. "Once she got to the lead, nobody was going to get past her."

Flaming Heart's next major target is the $125,000 Ontario Matron, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares here July 23.

Gold Strike may go under knife

The Hill 'n' Dale was a much less encouraging experience for Gold Strike, who finished a well-beaten fourth under regular rider Jim McAleney as the odds-on favorite in the field of five.

"She has a bruised epiglottis," said Baker, noting that McAleney had heard Gold Strike making a "gurgling sound" right after the race, which persisted upon her return to the barn.

"We might have to send her for surgery," said Baker, adding that he fears that Gold Strike could be sidelined for at least two months.

First local win for Asmussen

Steve Asmussen has won races in many places, but Chace City, who captured Sunday's $125,000 Victoria, represented the trainer's first success at Woodbine.

Then again, Chace City was just the third Woodbine starter for Asmussen and just the fourth for jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who also was recording his first score here.

Chace City, a Kentucky-bred 2-year-old who was coming off a victorious debut at Churchill Downs, became the first supplementary entrant to win a stakes at Woodbine this year.

Pete's Wonder, the locally trained runner-up, also was supplemented to the five-furlong Victoria at a cost of $2,500 including the $1,250 entry fee.

Woodbine opened up the majority of its stakes races to accommodate supplementary nominations for the first time this year.

Count to Three adds stakes to resume

Count to Three, owned by Sam-Son Farm and trained by Mark Frostad, became a stakes winner in Sunday's $75,000 Zadracarta, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares on the turf course.

A homebred 4-year-old, Count to Three had finished a close second in the Ontario Colleen over one mile of turf here last September.

"Her brother, Think Red, was a very good horse," said Frostad, who had sent out Think Red to win 3 of 5 starts before an injury ended his career following a sixth-place finish in the 2000 Atto Mile.

Soaring Free shoots for three-peat

Frostad and Sam-Son plan to be represented in two turf stakes on Queen's Plate Day, with Soaring Free set for the Grade 3, $200,000 Highlander and French Beret for the $100,000 Charlie Barley.

The Highlander is a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and upward, and the Charlie Barley is a one-mile race for 3-year-olds.

Soaring Free, a 7-year-old gelding, has won the last two editions of the Highlander and would be making his second start of 2006 after finishing a close sixth in the Grade 3 Shakertown at 5 1/2 furlong of turf at Keeneland on April 14.