03/19/2003 12:00AM

Plenty of horses for opening day


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Thoroughbreds are set to spring back into action here, as a total of 88 horses were entered in 10 races for Saturday, opening day of the 2003 meeting.

Woodbine will begin its 167-day meeting on Saturday and Sunday, then will add Fridays to the schedule next week. Wednesday racing will begin May 7, with Thursdays phased in on June 5.

Despite a severe winter that resulted in the backstretch opening being set back one week to Feb. 8, horsemen were ready to answer the bell at entry time Wednesday morning.

"I think we had a shaky start to the winter, but things are hopping now," said Steve Lym, Woodbine's new racing secretary. "The work tabs are strong, and we haven't heard too many complaints about horses not being ready."

Woodbine's training track, which opened Feb. 9, bore the brunt of the traffic until the main track opened Monday.

"The tracks have been good," said Lym. "The main track has been great, so far. It's better than the training track right now."

Nine of Saturday's races will go at five furlongs. The day's longest race, at seven furlongs, attracted a healthy field of 11.

The highlight of the card is the seasonal debut of Wake at Noon, Canada's reigning horse of the year and champion sprinter.

Wake at Noon is scheduled to face seven rivals in the Briartic Handicap, a five-furlong overnight stakes that offers a purse of $108,000 and has attracted other formidable multiple stakes winning sprinters such as Rare Friends and Krz Ruckus.

Sunday's feature, the $100,000 La Voyageuse, is another five-furlong overnight handicap that is not part of the guaranteed stakes schedule.

The regular stakes program will begin Sunday, March 30, with the six-furlong Achievement Handicap, a $150,000 race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, which is the first local stakes prep to the $1 million Queen's Plate here June 22.

The Queen's Plate is one of three seven-figure races at the meeting, along with the $1 million Atto Mile and the $1.5 million Canadian International. Both are Grade 1 turf races for 3-year-olds and upward.

The Atto Mile will be run Sept. 14 and the Canadian International, which has been held at the end of September for the past two years, has been moved back to Oct. 19.