09/28/2006 11:00PM

Shillelagh Slew difficult to deny

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Shillelagh Slew will try to nail down this year's Sovereign Award for Canadian champion 3-year-old in Sunday's Grade 3, $200,000 Ontario Derby at Woodbine.

After ending up fifth in the June 25 Queen's Plate, Shillelagh Slew took the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, by disqualification. He was third here on the grass in the final race of the series, the Breeders' Stakes.

Shillelagh Slew is coming off an authoritative 6 1/2-length victory under jockey Dino Luciani in the Aug. 26 Canadian Derby, which was run over 1 3/8 miles on a bullring at Northlands Park in Alberta.

Trainer Mike DePaulo said he felt Shillelagh Slew fired his best shot in the Grade 3 Canadian Derby.

"His last race was probably his most impressive," DePaulo said. "He's an agile horse, and he handled the turns real well. It was definitely the best ride Dino's given him. He saved some ground, showed some patience, and even went around a horse and got back to the rail. When things opened up, he just exploded and won very easily."

Shillelagh Slew has trained encouragingly over the Polytrack, breezing five furlongs in 59 and change recently, according to DePaulo.

The nine-furlong derby has lured six other 3-year-olds, including Royal Challenger, Seaside Retreat, Stradivinsky, and Oh So Awesome.

Royal Challenger, victorious in the Aug. 6 Breeders', dead-heated for first in the allowance prep for this event, in which he was mired in traffic before closing strongly off slow fractions.

Royal Challenger has improved by leaps and bounds since winning his maiden early in the meeting.

"I sprinted him early, but going two turns is obviously what he's crying out to do," said trainer Brian Lynch. "Ever since we started stretching him out, he's gotten better and better."

Seaside Retreat had a wide trip when second in the Grade 2 Lane's End Stakes over Turfway's Polytrack in March. He has stuck to the grass since finishing 10th in the Kentucky Derby, winning the Charlie Barley Stakes and running second in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby.

Stradivinsky, the probable pacemaker, trounced older optional claiming opponents in his local debut on the Polytrack on Sept. 14.

New York invader Oh So Awesome was a distant fifth in both the Grade 1 Belmont and Grade 2 Jim Dandy stakes.