10/15/2007 11:00PM

Sky Conqueror gives it another try

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sky Conqueror acquitted himself well last year in his first attempt at Woodbine's Canadian International, finishing third after encountering some traffic trouble in the stretch.

On Sunday, Sky Conqueror will be looking for clearer sailing and a trip to the winner's circle as the only returning member from last year's Canadian International.

"He's been doing great," said Darwin Banach, who trains Sky Conqueror for owner-breeder Bill Sorokolit. "I'd say we're on track. I couldn't ask him to be any better than he is now."

Sky Conqueror began his current campaign with a closing fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Maker's Mark at one mile on turf at Keeneland, and followed that by becoming a Grade 1 winner in the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.

In four subsequent starts, all at Woodbine on the turf, Sky Conqueror was beaten a nose as the runner-up in the 1 1/8-mile King Edward, won the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer, was beaten by three-quarters of a length as the third-place finisher in the 1 1/2-mile Nijinsky, and was beaten 4 1/4 lengths when eighth in the Woodbine Mile.

The race that doesn't fit the rest of the profile, obviously, was the Woodbine Mile, but Banach believes the distance and timing of that event actually could reap dividends.

"Using the Mile as a prep is going to get him on his toes a little more," said Banach. "He used a mile prep last year, albeit a little closer to the race."

Sky Conqueror, who missed both the Nijinsky and the Sky Classic last year, won an open allowance race at one mile on turf here on Oct. 8, 2006, as his prep for the Canadian International.

"I think we're as good, if not better, coming into the International this year," said Banach. "I like the nice break he's had. The five weeks have been great for him."

Banach also believes the European scale of weights for the Canadian International, under which older horses carry 126 pounds and 3-year-olds 119 pounds, will be to Sky Conqueror's advantage.

"He's had to carry a lot of weight all along, and the horses that beat him have been very nice horses," said Banach. "At even weights now, let's see what happens."

Sky Conqueror also has performed well on firm, good, yielding, and soft courses, and that could be in his favor since rain was in the forecast over the next few days.

"No matter what the going, he's going to run his race," said Banach.

Javier Castellano, whose rode Sky Conqueror in the Turf Classic and the Woodbine Mile, has the call for the Canadian International.

Two 3-year-olds in International

The only 3-year-olds in the International are Windward Islands, trained here by Mark Frostad, and Honolulu, an Irish invader trained by Aidan O' Brien.

Windward Islands, a Kentucky-bred owned by Sam-Son Farm, has displayed steady improvement this season while starting four times, all here on turf.

"He's coming along good, training well," said Frostad.

After winning a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on June 22, Windward Islands defeated fellow 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles in the Toronto Cup.

In his last two starts, both in Grade 2 stakes against older rivals, Windward Islands was beaten 6 1/4 lengths as the fourth-place finisher in the 1 1/2-mile Nijinsky, and 1 3/4 lengths as the third-place finisher in the 1 3/8-mile Sky Classic.

"I'd never really thought about the International until his last race," said Frostad. "He closed pretty fast there. It looked like if it was another eighth of a mile, he might have won.

"And, he came out of the race great. He's ready to roll."

Although Windward Islands only exposure to "off" turf came in the Nijinsky, Frostad is not concerned.

"He got tired in that race, but it was only his third start of the year," said Frostad. "He's a lot fitter now; I think he'd handle it.".

Todd Kabel, who rode Sky Conqueror last year, is the regular rider of Windward Islands and will be seeking his first Canadian International win in his 11th appearance.

Windward Islands will be the 15th starter in 10 runnings of the International for Frostad, who won it in 1997 with Chief Bearhart.

Sam-Son Farm will be running its 25th representative in 17 runnings of the Canadian International. Sam-Son won with Chief Bearhart and with Sky Classic in 1991.

Pools to commingle in New Jersey

Beginning Thursday, Canadian horseplayers will be betting directly into the host track pools in New Jersey.

Thoroughbred commingling begins with the Meadowlands and will be effective at Monmouth when that track opens for its four-day Breeders' Cup meeting next Wednesday.

Woodbine's takeout rates will match those at the Meadowlands in all pools except the pick four and superfecta.

The pick four and superfecta takeout at the Meadowlands is 15 percent, but it will be 25opercent at Woodbine.

For Monmouth, Woodbine will match all takeout rates except the 15 percent for the pick four, which will be 25 percent here.

The pick six will be a minimum $1 bet for a part wheel and $2 for a straight wager on Monmouth races, but the minimum will be $2 for the Breeders' Cup pick six.