08/24/2006 11:00PM

Sky Conqueror looms tough

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sky Conqueror, a grandson of the legendary Canadian-bred Nijinsky, looks like a major contender in Sunday's $300,000 Nijinsky Stakes, at 1 1/2 miles on the grass.

Sky Conqueror is the leader of Woodbine's older male turf division. When he launched his local campaign in the Grade 3 Connaught Cup Stakes, he was a fast-closing third, beaten just a head by Remarkable News and Le Cinquieme Essai.

Sky Conqueror won his first stakes July 3, in the Grade 2 King Edward Breeders' Cup. Most recently, he stretched out from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles in the Grade 2 Northern Dancer Stakes, and rallied strongly to prevail with a Beyer Speed Figure of 104.

Todd Kabel, who was aboard for Sky Conqueror's two stakes scores, said the colt has improved dramatically this year at age 4.

"I've been trying to get back on him this year, and I finally did a few starts ago," Kabel said. "He's definitely maturing. He's very capable, and it seems like everything you throw at him, he's there for the challenge."

Trainer Darwin Banach worked Sky Conqueror five furlongs in 1:04.40 at Fort Erie last Monday.

"I was uncomfortable with the tracks that were available to work on here," Banach said. "He galloped out a mile in 1:38. It was a maintenance thing. It was exactly what we wanted."

The Grade 2 Nijinsky has also lured Last Answer, Seaside Retreat, Rush Bay, and Jambalaya.

Last Answer opened up a substantial lead on the backstretch in the Northern Dancer before giving way in the final strides and finishing a half-length back in second under Emile Ramsammy.

Trainer Mike Keogh said he wasn't surprised to see Last Answer on the front end in the Northern Dancer.

"We figured that if nobody else went, we'd go, because he likes to be close to the pace," Keogh said. "I left it in Emile's hands. I didn't expect him to be that far in front, but I thought he did a good job."

Seaside Retreat, the top 3-year-old grass runner at Woodbine, will be meeting older opponents for the first time. Last out in the $1 million Virginia Derby, he had traffic problems, and wound up second to Go Between.

The Kentucky-based Rush Bay captured the Opening Verse Handicap two starts ago at Churchill Downs, but came up empty most recently in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap.

Jambalaya, victorious in the 1 1/2-mile Singspiel Stakes in June, is adding Lasix off a third-place finish in the Northern Dancer.