07/27/2006 12:00AM

Pleasant Amelia looks to be hitting stride


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - While the focus will be on the continuing rivalry between Kimchi and Sweet Breanna, Pleasant Amelia will be looking to steal the spotlight in Saturday's $500,000 Wonder Where here at Woodbine.

Pleasant Amelia, owned and bred by George Strawbridge Jr. and trained by Mac Benson, will be making her stakes debut in the Wonder Where, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

But, judging by the form that she has displayed since being reintroduced to blinkers and to Woodbine's turf course this spring, Pleasant Amelia can make her presence felt.

Pleasant Amelia, who failed to finish better than fourth in her first seven starts, rallied from off the pace in her seven-furlong maiden special victory on June 2, scoring by a widening five lengths. Two weeks later, Pleasant Amelia raced close up throughout the early stages of a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles on the grass before assuming command for a 5 1/2-length victory.

"It's just age and experience," said Benson, explaining Pleasant Amelia's improvement. "She always showed ability, but she never showed any brightness. She's the kind of filly who took a little longer than most to catch on.

"She showed some speed on the turf last year, but you couldn't control it. It looks like blinkers have helped her, put her to where she stopped looking at everything else."

Pleasant Amelia raced on turf twice as a 2-year-old, finishing fourth on each occasion, and the lightbulb finally switched on when she returned to the grass for her second start this season and was reintroduced to blinkers, which she had tried in two races last year.

"I always thought she'd be a better filly on turf," Benson said. "It was just a case of getting her to settle down."

Judging by Pleasant Amelia's running style and pedigree, Benson does not expect the Wonder Where distance to be an obstacle.

"I don't see why the mile and a quarter would bother her," said Benson.

Emma-Jayne Wilson will ride Pleasant Amelia for the first time on Sunday.

Another shot for Like a Gem

Like a Gem, whose campaign was seriously compromised by a virus this spring, will get another chance to show her true colors in the Wonder Where.

Trained by Danny Vella for owner and breeder Garland Williamson, Like a Gem had missed some training time coming into the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks on June 11 and finished last of 10 as the 4-1 second choice.

Then, after getting a break on the farm, Like a Gem made her turf debut in the 6 1/2-furlong Ontario Damsel here July 9 and finished sixth, beaten six lengths.

"I think she liked the turf, she just had an impossible trip," said Vella. "I don't think distance is a problem with this filly; she's never showed any limitations."

Like a Gem, who breezed five furlongs in 1:02 on a sloppy training track here Monday, will have a new rider for the Wonder Where in David Clark.

Numerous options for Seaside Retreat

Trainer Mark Casse is looking at several options for Seaside Retreat, the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old colt who finished second in the $1 million Virginia Derby over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Colonial Downs on July 15.

Owned by Will Farish Jr., Seaside Retreat could make his next start in next Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park.

Seaside Retreat also has been nominated to the Grade 1, $400,000 Secretariat, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-olds at Arlington Park on Aug. 12. Or, Seaside Retreat could stay put here at Woodbine and await the Grade 2, $300,000 Nijinsky, a 1 3/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and upward on Aug. 27.

"That would be his first shot against older horses," said Casse. "His long-term goal is the Pattison Canadian International, and we need to find out whether we're good enough to get there or not."

The Grade 1, $2 million Canadian International, a 1 1/2-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and upward, will be run here Oct. 22.

Arctic Laur wins Passing Mood Stakes

Arctic Laur rallied down the center of the turf course under journeyman James McKnight to take the $127,400 Passing Mood Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies here Wednesday night.

Arctic Laur earned $75,000 in the first stakes victory for both her and her owner, Tony Gaito, who claimed her for $20,000 from her 2-year-old debut.

Arctic Laur was supplemented to the seven-furlong Passing Mood at a cost of $2,500 by her trainer, Sid Attard, after winning an Ontario-sired turf allowance July 1.

"She handles the grass real well," said McKnight. "I found something out about her when I rode her last time. She's the kind of filly you have to be patient with."

San Diego Nights and Swiftnsassy dueled on the lead through fractions of 22.95 and 46.80 seconds, stalked by London Snow and Executive Flight.

Executive Flight took control in midstretch, but was overhauled inside the sixteenth pole by Arctic Laur, who rallied from six lengths back to prevail by three-quarters of a length. The final time was 1:24 on good turf.

Arctic Laur paid $15.10, and the exactor onto Executive Affair returned $109.

Kick'em Jenny finished third, completing a triactor worth $996.50. Archeress, the 5-2 favorite, was a troubled fifth in the 11-horse field.

The Passing Mood also was the first stakes win of the meeting for both Attard and McKnight.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink