05/28/2003 11:00PM

Plate Trial latest step up for Solihull

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer David Bell has been on a tear recently, winning three races here last week to bring his total to nine wins from his 44 starters at the meeting.

On Saturday, Bell would love nothing more than to keep the ball rolling with Solihull in the Plate Trial.

Solihull will be seeking his third straight win in the Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds that is one of the final stepping-stones to the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate here June 22.

A homebred owned by Les Pereira's Beclawat Stable, Solihull was erratic in his six-start campaign at 2, finishing second twice but running no better than fourth in his other four starts.

Bell cited shin problems and the effects of a virus as factors in Solihull's inconsistency last year.

"It seemed like we got him straightened out last fall," he said. "His last start of the year we thought we had him perfect, but he came back with a bad quarter crack."

After wintering at Plumley Farm, near Ocala, Fla., Solihull came back to Bell at Woodbine on April 11.

"Last year, he was a nice-looking colt," said Bell. "But he's really grown into himself; he matured well. He's a big, strong colt now."

Bell also noted that Solihull had plenty of training miles under his belt when he arrived. Solihull worked twice the week after arriving here. Bell, seeing Solihull was in good shape, decided to enter him at two turns rather than in a sprint.

Solihull was more than equal to the challenge, rallying wide from well back to prevail by a length in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special here April 26.

Three weeks later, Solihull employed similar tactics while capturing a first-level allowance at the same distance.

"He's done everything we've asked of him," said Bell. "The Plate Trial will be a different kettle of fish, but it's the next step. It doesn't look like the distance is going to hurt him."

Bell to sit out Nassau

Bell also had two nominees for Sunday's Nassau, Picture Palace and Silver Nithi, but neither will run in the Nassau, the first turf stakes for older fillies and mares this meet.

Bell had entered Picture Palace twice for turf races here this spring but scratched her when they were moved to the main track. After conferring with Josephine Abercrombie, the owner and breeder of Picture Palace, Bell decided to pass the Nassau and wait for an allowance opportunity.

Picture Palace, who joined Bell's outfit here last spring, ended her 2002 campaign with back-to-back turf victories at the first two allowance levels.

"She was going to be retired after last year," said Bell, "but she was sound, and her form had got a lot better.

"She's well bred enough; we're hoping to get some black type for her somewhere."

Silver Nithi is being pointed for the Ontario Matron Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on the main track here next Saturday.

Illusive Force has bullet half-mile

Illusive Force, the British Columbia-bred gelding who checked in earlier this month with designs on the Plate, worked four furlongs in a bullet 47.40 seconds Wednesday with an eye toward next Sunday's 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park Stakes.

"He worked really well," said Lani VanOverschot, wife and assistant to trainer Rob VanOverschot. "He was just bucking and squealing when he was cooling out."

Illusive Force, who had opened up his campaign by winning the 6 1/2-furlong City of Vancouver at Hastings May 10, was a well-beaten fourth in his local debut in the 1 1/16-mile Marine seven days later.

"I wasn't disappointed at all," said Lani VanOverschot. "He came back good out of it. He's just doing good."

Jockey Gerry Olguin was aboard Illusive Force for Wednesday's drill, but regular rider Dave Wilson, based in Alberta, is slated to return for the Victoria Park.

Barbeau Ruckus wins Steady Growth

Barbeau Ruckus ($9.60) won in a good field of Ontario-sired runners on Wednesday night at Woodbine in the $128,570 Steady Growth Stakes.

Barbeau Ruckus stalked quick fractions under Constant Montpellier in the 1 1/16-mile race. Forever Grand and T J's Lucky Moon dueled through a quarter in 23.09 seconds and were joined by Mister Coop after a half in 46.61.

Barbeau Ruckus made a four-wide bid on the far turn as longshot Geraint snuck through along the rail. The two battled to the wire, with Barbeau Ruckus prevailing by a half-length.

Forever Grand, the 4-5 favorite, was another 6 1/4 lengths back in third in the six-horse field. The final time was 1:45.12.

"We wanted to stay close to the pace," said Montpellier, "and we got lucky when three of them hooked up on the lead. It set up perfectly for us."

Ross Armata trains Barbeau Ruckus, who earned $77,250 for owners Jennifer Armata and Thavamalar Thayalan.

* Apprentice Jill Scharfstein rode her first Woodbine winner in Wednesday's second race, in which she guided favored Princess Atta to an easy victory. Scharfstein became a five-pound apprentice with the win, which was her fifth.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink