08/12/2003 12:00AM

Sky Jack tops nominees for Mile

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AUBURN, Wash. - Sky Jack heads a list of 28 handicap runners nominated to the 68th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 24 at Emerald Downs.

Sky Jack, who won the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last year, is expected to be the favorite and will achieve millionaire status if he wins. A 7-year-old son of Jaklin Klugman, Sky Jack is coming off a victory over allowance rivals at Hollywood Park on July 5, when he led throughout 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.15. That win boosted his bankroll to $977,627. He has 9 wins in 17 starts.

Doug O'Neill trains Sky Jack for Ren-Mar Thoroughbreds. He has been ridden by Pat Valenzuela in his two starts this year.

Taste of Paradise, Gondolieri, Reba's Gold, and Danthebluegrassman, the top four finishers in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 3, have all been nominated to the Mile. Other notable California-based stars on the list include the Gary Tanaka-owned Nose the Trade and Crafty C.T., who finished first and third, respectively, in a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Del Mar on July 26.

Lord Nelson, who has been the dominant handicap horse in British Columbia for the last three seasons, is expected to invade from the north.

Locally based nominees include Turban, Alfurune, Poker Brad, and Handy N Bold, all stakes winners at the current Emerald meeting. Also nominated are Sabertooth and Moonlight Meeting, the one-two finishers in last year's Mile, and Flying Notes, who was named horse of the meeting as a 3-year-old last year at Emerald.

Sundance Circle will stay local

It was hardly a surprise that Sundance Circle won last Saturday's restricted Strong Ruler Stakes at 1-5, but the manner in which he did it was nonetheless impressive.

Under regular rider Jennifer Whitaker, Sundance Circle went to the front and widened with every stride to win off by more than 10 lengths over five rivals in 1:15.20 for 6 1/2 furlongs. The time, which was achieved under a hand ride, erased the stakes record of 1:16.60, set last year by Bub.

Purchased at last year's WTBA summer yearling sale for $52,000 by Mike and Margie Alhadeff's Once Stable, Sundance Circle has earned $43,203 from three wins in as many starts. Trainer Howard Belvoir feels Sundance Circle may be beginning to show his ability.

"He has a shot to be a really nice horse," said the trainer. "With 2-year-olds it is hard to know what they are beating, but he has everything going for him. He is an exceptional-looking horse and he has a good mind. He's just a very classy individual."

Belvoir said he isn't looking beyond the two stakes remaining for Sundance Circle on the Emerald Stakes schedule. Those are the $35,000 WTBA Lads Stakes at a mile Aug. 30 and the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Sept. 21.

It will be interesting to see if the track offers show betting on those races. Saturday, the track ate a minus pool of $22,841 after $126,022 was bet on Sundance Circle to show. Gary Hallett, the track's director of mutuels, said the large majority of the total came from three large out-of-state bets. Only about $7,000 was bet on Sundance Circle to show at the track.

Stratoplan has lots of spirit

Canadian invader Stratoplan reminded some observers of the notoriously cantankerous Kid Katabatic in the paddock on Sunday, as it took up to four handlers to control the spirited 3-year-old before the $65,000 Seattle Slew Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

He also ran a bit like Kid Katabatic, which is to say he showed fierce determination to prevail by a head after dueling the length of the stretch with the pacesetter, Knightsbridge Road. The favored Condotierri got up for third, 2 1/4 lengths behind the top two.

It was the third win from five starts this year for Stratoplan, a homebred son of Game Plan who races for Wally and Terry Leong's Canyon Farms in Kelowna, B.C. He has been ridden each time by Nicola Wright, which is remarkable considering what happened the first time Wright rode Stratoplan in his seasonal debut at Hastings Park.

"He threw a fit in the post parade and just about knocked poor Nikki out," said trainer Robbie VanOverschot. "Her teeth went through her lower lip, but she still rode.

"He's a temperamental horse, and he can be a bit of a handful. On Saturday night he tried to kick the walls of his stall down and he banged up his hocks pretty good, but he galloped great on Sunday morning and we ran him. I never know quite what to expect with this horse."

VanOverschot is blessed with two exceptional 3-year-olds this season, Stratoplan and Illusive Force, who was last season's juvenile champ at Hastings. He said at least one of them is likely to contest the $125,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Derby at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 1, but he hasn't decided which one it will be.