04/08/2003 11:00PM

Scratch policy: Right or wrong?

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There's a controversy brewing over the Jacques Cartier Stakes.

The Jacques Cartier, originally carded for last Sunday, was washed out along with the rest of that program due to track conditions.

Sunday morning, before the announcement of the cancellation, trainer Bob Tiller had scratched Cheap Talk from the feature.

The Jacques Cartier was rescheduled for Friday but was not redrawn, with the original field of six reappearing on the overnight in accordance with the policy of the Woodbine Entertainment Group.

But the stewards have ruled that Cheap Talk will be scratched Friday, regardless of whether Tiller has had any second thoughts regarding the horse's participation.

While there is no specific rule necessitating a scratch under such circumstances, the stewards can see no alternative.

"A scratch is irrevocable," said steward Nelson Ham, speaking for the other stewards, too. "Our position is if we let Cheap Talk in, you've got to open up the race again. That would be fair to everybody."

Reopening the entry box for the Jacques Cartier was not an option, as such a move would be contrary to established but unwritten policy at Woodbine.

Such policy is not universal, however. Stakes races on canceled holiday Monday cards in February at both Aqueduct and Laurel, for example, were redrawn when rescheduled for the following weekend, and there were changes in both fields.

The Woodbine model shuts out 13 other horses who were nominated to the Jacques Cartier at a cost of $125 apiece and whose connections may have reconsidered their status for the race due to the rescheduling.

Chris Evans, Woodbine's director of racing, said the policy has pros and cons and acknowledges that it may be worth reviewing.

"People not in the race Sunday may want in now," said Evans, using the example of the Jacques Cartier. "You could end up with a better field.

"But if you had any significantly strong horses maybe we'd lose some of the people in there now. There's no way you can predict if you're going to help your situation by reopening."

Such theorizing is of no comfort to Tiller, who also is a co-owner of Cheap Talk.

"He was scratched by me, on that day [Sunday], because I didn't feel the horse was 100 percent," said Tiller, who still will send out both Forever Grand and Rare Friends for the Jacques Cartier.

"My horse is sound this morning; he could run," Tiller said Wednesday. "I scratched him last week, not this Friday.

"Under the rules of racing, the stewards run the show. They've decided he can't run, and we'll have to live with that decision. But I'm certainly not pleased with it.

"Legally, I don't think it's right. I paid my nomination fee and my entry fee ($1,250) and they're depriving me of running when I think I should be running."

Freshened horse proves best

Tiller had plenty to celebrate last Saturday, with a three-win day capped by Winter Garden's score in the $143,500 Star Shoot Stakes.

A Kentucky-bred owned by Frank DiGiulio, Winter Garden had won her first two starts here last fall before finishing fifth as the favorite in the Glorious Song.

While Winter Gardens had spent the winter braving the elements at nearby Buttigieg Training Centre, her five rivals in the Star Shoot included Buffalo Jump and In the Ghetto, both of whom raced at Fair Grounds this winter; Handpainted, who had been training in New Orleans; and Hour of Justice, who had been at Adena Springs South in Florida.

"It didn't surprise me she ran big, but she surprised me that she won," Tiller said. "I really thought that, on paper, we couldn't win the race.

"But the so-called winter-trained horses, and winter-raced horses, didn't have it - it wasn't their day."

Winter Garden, a $30,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland, becomes the latest in a string of reasonably priced purchases to win a stakes for Tiller. The question now is what she will do for an encore.

"One of the problems with her is she's an American-bred," Tiller said. "Unless she'll go long, there isn't a whole lot for her."

The next open stakes race here for the 3-year-old filly division is the $250,000 Selene, a 1 1/16-mile race May 19.

Appas Tappas runs well against track bias

Soitenly and Appas Tappas, another pair of Tiller-trained American-breds, finished one- two in a first-level allowance race here last Saturday and could swing back in the $125,000 Woodstock, a six-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds here April 19.

Soitenly, a Virginia-bred owned by DiGiulio, and Appas Tappas, a Kentucky-bred owned by DiGiulio and Tiller, each won his only start in impressive fashion at five furlongs here last fall.

And although Soitenly proved best while recording a front-running four-length victory on a track that favored that style here last Saturday, Appas Tappas rallied from last place to finish a clear second despite a nightmarish trip.

"He was totally eliminated; he was checked for a quarter of a mile," Tiller said. "How he wound up second, against the bias, is amazing. He's a good horse; don't underestimate him."

Brass in Pocket tries sprint stakes

Tiller also plans to be represented in Saturday's $125,000 feature, the six-furlong Whimsical Stakes for older fillies and mares.

His candidate there is Brass in Pocket, an Ontario-sired 4-year-old bred and owned by DiGiulio who was unstarted at 2 but was a double stakes winner of five races and $299,155 here last year.

"She'd rather go longer," Tiller said. "But she's got to start somewhere. It will be the same routine. We'll get a race under her and hopefully she'll surprise us and get some major money."