06/08/2007 12:00AM

Sealy Hill has question to answer


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sealy Hill is the most talented runner in Sunday's Woodbine Oaks. Whether she wins may just be a question of her ability to handle the nine-furlong distance of the $500,000 event for 3-year-old fillies.

The Oaks has lured 10 other Canadian-breds, including Saskawea, and a strong American contingent headed by Street Sounds. Trainer Todd Pletcher has also sent in two horses, Belleplaine and Christies Treasure, who will be ridden respectively by John Velazquez and Garrett Gomez.

Sealy Hill, trained by Mark Casse for Melnyk Racing Stable, was one of the leading 2-year-old fillies in Canada last year. After ending up second in her season opener in a Gulfstream allowance, she won the Grade 3 Bourbonette BC Stakes at Turfway over Panty Raid, who returned to capture the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

Most recently over a muddy track in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, Sealy Hill raced in a stalking position before fading to finish 26 lengths behind the brilliant winner, Rags to Riches.

"At the half-mile pole, I thought she was going to be right there," said Casse. "But she just packed it in after Rags to Riches ran by her so fast. She had never had that happen to her before, and I think it scared her. Rags to Riches is in a league of her own."

Casse, who won the 2006 Oaks with Kimchi, believes the jury is still out as to whether or not Sealy Hill can stay the Oaks distance.

"The biggest thing with Sealy Hill is that she has to prove that she can go a mile and an eighth," Casse said. "She looked like she was going to win the Bourbonette at a mile easily, but she got late the last part of it."

Saskawea posted an 11-1 upset in taking her seasonal bow, in the seven-furlong Fury Stakes. Three weeks ago in the 1 1/16-mile Selene Stakes, she closed belatedly under Justin Stein to finish a distant second to a razor-sharp Bear Now.

Trainer Steve Attard, who sent out Sweet Breanna to finish second in last year's Oaks, said he wasn't keen on running Saskawea back just two weeks after the Fury in the Grade 3 Selene, but had no other options.

"I thought it was going to take a lot out of her, but it didn't," said Attard. "It was easy to train her for the Selene. I just galloped her into the race. She didn't have the greatest trip.

Attard said he thought Saskawea could have been closer to the pace, "but Justin wanted to save some ground. In a way, I'm glad it happened that way, because we didn't have to abuse her to be a closer second."

Bear Now had such a large lead, said Attard, Saskawea "probably thought she won the race."

Street Sounds, based in Maryland with trainer Michael Matz, is a turf specialist with a good Polytrack effort on her resume - a victory in the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes in April at Keeneland. She finished third in the Jessamine on the turf at Keeneland last fall.

Matz recalled that Street Sounds had worked very well on Keeneland's synthetic surface before the Jessamine: "I knew she'd like the track."

Street Sounds registered her third win in a row last time out in the one-mile Hilltop Stakes on the grass at Pimlico.

Belleplaine, who is also owned by Melnyk, earned moderate Beyer Speed Figures winning each of her two most recent starts convincingly, including a first-level allowance at Pimlico.

Christies Treasure captured a first-level allowance over the Keeneland turf in her last outing April 11.

Quiet Jungle won her maiden by disqualification in her debut at the Fair Grounds, and ran greenly while capturing a 1 1/16-mile allowance here May 6.

The 52nd running of the Oaks heads a strong 10-race card, which also includes the $125,000 Victoria Park and the $100,000 Alywow.