06/11/2003 11:00PM

Ross also has good pair for Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There will be plenty of talk about Mike Keogh, who trains Mobil and Wando for owner Gustav Schickedanz, in the final days leading up to the Queen's Plate.

But Keogh, it should be noted, is not the only trainer who hopes to be represented by two entrants in next Sunday's running of the 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

John Ross also has a pair of runners for the Plate in Arco's Gold and Dance Engagement. Either is capable of a big effort in the $1 million showpiece.

Arco's Gold, owned by Alex and Steven DiIorio, was on a par with Mobil at the conclusion of their juvenile campaigns.

The comparison can be taken quite literally, as the two dead-heated for first here in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, although Arco's Gold emerged the sole winner via the disqualification of his rival.

Arco's Gold won his third race in as many starts in the Coronation, which also marked his stakes debut and his first try around two turns.

But not much has gone right for Arco's Gold since then, and he will be making just his second start of the year next Sunday.

Arco's Gold, who wintered with Ross at Classic Mile in Florida, had returned in good shape and was slated to make his seasonal bow in the seven-furlong Queenston here May 3.

But the colt took ill, missed about three weeks of training, and did not race until May 17 in the 1 1/16-mile Marine.

"He was pretty sick," Ross said. "He missed some key workouts, and his prep race."

Arco's Gold finished third in the Marine, beaten 7 1/4 lengths by Wando, in a decent effort considering the circumstances.

Ross then decided to bypass the May 31 Plate Trial, and either use the June 8 Victoria Park as Arco's Gold's final prep or simply train the colt up to the Plate.

When the entries for the Victoria Park were taken last Thursday, Arco's Gold was not in the lineup.

"We made the final decision the day before," Ross said. "Because he was sick before, and things can happen in a race, he could go into the Victoria Park and get stressed out.

"We decided to give him a mile work, and have him healthy and strong."

Arco's Gold worked one mile last Sunday in a solid 1:40 over the training track under regular rider Constant Montpellier, with Ross clocking his last half-mile in 48 seconds.

"Now we're coming up to the Plate," Ross said, "and the horse is good now."

'Dance' sharp for Plate

Dance Engagement also has taken an unorthodox path to the Plate.

Dance Engagement is heading into the Plate following a second-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park, which would not be that unusual were it not for the fact that it was just his second lifetime start and followed a fourth-place finish at 6 1/2 furlongs here May 18.

"We'd trained him down in Florida, too, and he had lots of miles under him," said Ross, who had hoped to have Dance Engagement in a two-turn maiden race for his second start but could not find an appropriate spot.

"We'd nominated to the Victoria Park; we wanted to give the horse a chance to go long, before all doors closed going forward to the Queen's Plate," Ross said.

Dance Engagement wound up faring the best of the five Plate eligibles in the Victoria Park, as his late rally left him just a neck shy of Kentucky-bred Pants N Kisses.

"The horse didn't look bad at all," Ross said. "He did a lot better than you might expect, going a mile and an eighth for the first time, coming off six and a half furlongs."

Ross cannot be blamed for believing Dance Engagement could be ready to take another major step forward.

"The most dangerous horse is an improving horse," he said. "That's what Dance Engagement is - improving fast."

Brass in Pocket closes for win

Brass in Pocket overcame a tardy break to take the $128,875 Ballade Stakes over a fast-closing Roman Romance here Wednesday night. She paid $3.90 as the favorite.

Devastating broke alertly and set honest fractions while being stalked by Brass in Pocket and Mysterious Affair, who won the two previous runnings of the six-furlong race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares.

Brass in Pocket made the lead just inside the eighth pole and then appeared to idle, but she was able to hold of a surging Roman Romance to win by a neck. Mysterious Affair, Devastating, Lightning Pace, and Spanish Decree completed the order of finish.

"She was a little fussy in the gate tonight," said David Clark, who rode Brass in Pocket. "She broke okay, but not as well as she did last time. She lost her focus, and half pulled herself up at the eighth pole after she put those horses away, but everything worked out well."

Brass in Pocket covered the distance in 1:10.46. Trained by Bob Tiller, she earned $77,325 for owner-breeder Frank DiGiulio Jr.

Racing show debuts

"Horseplay," a 12-part television series focusing on the Thoroughbred racing scene in Canada, will debut at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on both Outdoor Life Network and TRN.

Each half-hour episode will also be shown at 9:00 a.m. Sunday mornings on CTV's Ontario stations.

Joe Tilley will host the shows and Steve Millar will be the analyst for the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which was the driving force behind the project.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink