11/10/2005 1:00AM

Schooner Bay faces tough assignment

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Schooner Bay passed her first stakes test when she gamely won the Oct. 10 Classy 'N Smart here at Woodbine. But the Classy 'N Smart was a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares, and Schooner Bay will have to prove her mettle again in Saturday's Grade 3, $198,300 Maple Leaf Stakes over 1 1/4 miles.

"She's hooking open company now," said David Bell, who trains Schooner Bay for Melnyk Racing Stable. "But she's trained good since that last race, and she's been on the improve. She wasn't excelling until she hit that last spot."

Schooner Bay, despite being a prime contender in her first five starts this season, had been in the doldrums coming into the Classy 'N Smart, finishing second as the odds-on choice in back-to-back allowance races over 1 1/16 miles.

"It seemed like we were stuck there," said Bell, who took over as Schooner Bay's conditioner this season. "But she definitely didn't like the slop the one time."

Schooner Bay, a 4-year-old who races on or close to the lead, hit the sloppy going in her start prior to the Classy 'N Smart and was beaten a neck under rider Todd Kabel.

"She wasn't dealing with it," said Bell. "Kabel said he thought she was going to be last, but she kept going and going."

That tenacity may have been a harbinger of Schooner Bay's success in the Classy 'N Smart.

"She got hooked turning for home," said Bell, looking back on Schooner Bay's 2 3/4-length Classy 'N Smart victory. "She was surrounded; it looked like they were going to swallow her up. But she dug in and went on with it again."

The Maple Leaf will be Schooner Bay's longest journey, but Bell is optimistic on that front.

"I don't think it will bother her," said Bell. "Her pedigree says she should handle it."

Schooner Bay, a daughter of Queen's Plate winner Archers Bay, will be ridden by Emile Ramsammy, who was aboard for the first time in the Classy 'N Smart.

Victorious Ami more aggressive now

Bell also will send out a primary contender for Sunday's $167,250 Jammed Lovely Stakes, with Victorious Ami among the field of 10 for the seven-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies.

Victorious Ami, owned and bred by Ivan Dalos, won her maiden while winding up her 2004 campaign in the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth Stakes here last Oct. 23.

But Victorious Ami was winless in her first seven starts this season before breaking through in a big way in a first-level allowance, which also was run over 1 1/16 miles.

"I hope we've finally got her on track now," said Bell. "She's always shown aggressiveness in all her works, but hasn't in the afternoons. Finally, she did last time. We got her in the race early."

Victorious Ami, under regular rider Ramsammy, raced close to the pace before taking charge en route to an 11 1/2-length victory in that last start.

"Shortening up is always a worry, but she seems to be doing real well," said Bell. "She might just like the cooler weather. She looks great. She has a better coat on her now than she did in the spring."

La Gran Marylin gives Taft first stakes

La Gran Marylin, who captured the $127,000 South Ocean here Wednesday evening, will go down in the record books as the first stakes winner and first Woodbine winner for trainer Hugo Taft.

Taft, however, was quick to deflect credit to veteran trainer Jake Nemett, who is recuperating from a stroke.

"He's the only trainer I've worked for since I started on the track," said Taft, who had been involved with show horses prior to joining Nemett here in 1996. "I started with Jake as a groom, galloped for him, and became his assistant three years ago."

Taft recorded his first career win this May when Barbs and Bows, a 5-year-old mare whom he owns in partnership with Robert and Barbara Foster, won her maiden for $18,000 at Fort Erie.

Meanwhile, La Gran Marylin was stretching out for the first time in the South Ocean, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies.

Under jockey Slade Callaghan, who was registering his fourth stakes victory of the season, La Gran Marylin rallied from off the pace in the muddy going and won by 3 1/2 lengths as the 7-2 second choice.

Questuary, one of four maidens in the field of 10, rallied for second, while Perigee Girl, the 6-5 favorite, faltered to finish third after leading by four lengths at the eighth pole.

La Gran Marylin, making her eighth start, was registering her second win. She has finished in the top three seven times and fourth once while banking $177,588.

"We had this race picked out," said Taft. "The way she'd been running, we thought she wanted the added distance."

La Gran Marylin, a homebred who races for the Fieldstone Farm of Ron Delmas and family, is unlikely to race again this season.

But Taft and Fieldstone Farm are looking forward to upcoming stakes action with Atlas Shrugs, who is slated for the $125,000 Frost King here Nov. 23, and Kabul, a candidate for the Grade 3, $150,000 Bessarabian on Dec. 3.

The Frost King is a seven-furlong race for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds and the Bessarabian is a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares.

Atlas Shrugs finished a closing fourth last time out in the Bull Page, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds here Oct. 15.

Kabul, a 5-year-old, came within a nose of winning her first stakes here in the Nov. 5 River Memories and has banked $655,217 through 39 career starts.