03/07/2003 12:00AM

Plenty of choices in Canadian


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With six of the seven highweights passing the race and only three pounds separating highweight Miesque's Approval from the lowweights, it doesn't take a genius to realize Sunday's $100,000 Canadian Turf Handicap is completely up for grabs.

Miesque's Approval's three stakes victories and his trainer-jockey duo of Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey should be enough to make him the favorite in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf. The key question regarding Miesque's Approval's chance of winning the Canadian Turf may be how much a cross country trip to Santa Anita might have taken out of him. He finished fifth in the inaugural Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita Jan. 25.

For those inclined to take a stand against the favorite, there are plenty of options. Perhaps the most intriguing are Strategic Partner, First Lieutenant, and Sardaukar.

Strategic Partner makes his second start on the comeback trail and only his third appearance since finishing seventh behind Denon in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in November 2001. Strategic Partner was generally acknowledged to be among the top 3-year-old turf horses on the East Coast that season after winning the Grade 3 Crown Royal American Turf and finishing second in both the Grade 2 Jamaica and National Museum of Racing Handicap.

In his Feb. 10 comeback from a 7 1/2-month layoff, Strategic Partner broke slowly, put in a strong run from last around the second turn, was forced extremely wide into the stretch, and continued willingly to finish third in an allowance race.

Trainer Philip Oliver waited until the fall of First Lieutenant's 5-year-old season to try his horse on turf and has since been rewarded with three solid grass tries, including a troubled third-place finish behind Burning Roma and Tour of the Cat in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Handicap Feb. 15. First Lieutenant has shown he has the class to win the Canadian Turf, having finished second on dirt in the Grade 2 Iselin Handicap in 2001. He also crossed the wire first in last summer's Grade 3 Salvator Mile only to be disqualified and placed third for causing interference through the stretch.

"He had some trouble in his last two turf races and I think he should improve off those efforts on Sunday," Oliver said. "And if he does, I think he stands a pretty good chance against this field."

Sardaukar was claimed for $100,000 by owner Mike Gill earlier this winter and returned quick dividends when he finished a late-striding third in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap. A repeat of either of his last two performances makes him a major threat Sunday.

French Charmer, who outfinished Strategic Partner in an allowance race last month, will get tested for class while making his stakes debut in the Canadian Turf. The presence of Rakoon and Political Attack in the starting lineup should assure an honest pace. Saint Verre and Regency Park are entered for main track only.

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