10/02/2008 12:00AM

Shipper fond of this course

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Heros Reward, who has always been right at home over Woodbine's expansive turf course, heads a competitive 12-horse field in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Nearctic Stakes. The six-furlong sprint is a Win and You're In race for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

Heros Reward captured the 2007 Nearctic convincingly, and has won 3 of 5 starts this year. His most recent excursion to Woodbine from his Maryland base resulted in a front-running victory in the six-furlong Highlander Stakes in June.

Heros Reward chased home the speedy True to Tradition most recently when second in the five-furlong Turf Monster Handicap at Philadelphia Park.

Trainer Dale Capuano said Heros Reward didn't fire his best shot in the Turf Monster.

"He ran okay, but he really couldn't handle the turf," said Capuano. "We'd had a lot of rain prior to that race, and it was too soft for him. The horse that won ran lights out."

Starticus broke the six-furlong course record when he won an optional claimer here July 5. Last time out in the Arlington Sprint Handicap, he was outsprinted for the lead for the first time by Mr. Nightlinger, and wound up second.

"It was the first time that we'd shipped anywhere with him," said trainer Ralph Biamonte. "I think it took a little bit out of him. I would have liked to have seen him break a little quicker than he did. He made a move turning for home, but [Mr. Nightlinger] had too much left."

Biamonte said Starticus breezed an impressive half-mile in 46.20 seconds on Sept. 25.

"I've never seen him work as good as he did the other day," Biamonte boasted.

The Great Caruso gave Heros Reward a run for his money while finishing second in the Grade 3 Highlander.

"It was a huge race," said trainer Malcolm Pierce. "I was worried about him being toe-to-toe for the lead, but he settled into fourth and came with a run. He had trained well up to that race, and he's been training just as well into this race."

Just Rushing won the seven-furlong Play the King Stakes in August, and was third last time in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.

Trainer Sid Attard said he believes six furlongs is shorter than Just Rushing's optimum distance.

"He gets behind and tries too hard," Attard explained. "He likes to run under a hold."

New York shipper Hellvelyn was a fast-closing third after a troubled break in his North American debut in the Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga.