07/07/2008 11:00PM

Spotlight shines on Starticus

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It didn't come in a stakes race but the most impressive performance here last weekend was delivered by Starticus, a comfortable winner of a six-furlong turf race that was timed in a track-record 1:07.39.

Owned by Danny Lococo, trained by Ralph Biamonte, and ridden by Corey Fraser, Starticus won for the third time in as many starts this season, while competing under third-level allowance conditions in Saturday's $80,000 optional claimer.

The race was the seventh start for Starticus, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old gelding who was purchased for $21,000 as a 2-year-old in training.

"We always thought very highly of him," said Rocco De Luca, who is Biamonte's assistant here at Woodbine. "He was a nice horse from the beginning."

Starticus was acting the part in the mornings and was well-regarded when he raced for the first time, over 5 1/2 furlongs here last April. But his career stopped almost as soon as it began, as Starticus finished a tired sixth, then came back to the barn and collapsed.

Revived by the use of a steady stream of cold water, Starticus was believed to have suffered heat stroke and was sent to the nearby University of Guelph's veterinary clinic, where tests proved to be inconclusive.

Back at Woodbine, Starticus walked for the next two months before resuming light training at Fort Erie, where Biamonte also maintains a string.

Although he had returned to Woodbine in the interim, Starticus shipped back to Fort Erie for his second start, on Oct. 22, a race in which he recorded a 15 1/4-length maiden win - with a Beyer Speed Figure of 91.

"We wanted to give him a confidence-builder," said De Luca. "It wasn't about the money. It was about how he was going to finish a race. Our main goal was his health."

Starticus made the final two appearances of his first season at Woodbine, finishing a close second in a first-level allowance at seven furlongs, then faltering to fifth under the same terms at 6 1/2 furlongs.

"He popped a curb in his last race," De Luca said, referring to a strained ligament in a hock.

Starticus returned to the racetrack at Woodbine in February after wintering in Ontario. And since his return he has been a horse of a different color, particularly since being introduced to turf racing in his second appearance of the season.

"We knew all along he was a turf horse," said De Luca. "His confidence is up. He's better and more mature."

Based on Starticus's performance here Sunday, it appears that stakes racing will next on the agenda for him.

Biamonte has mentioned the $100,000 Pennsylvania Governor's Cup, a five-furlong turf race at Penn National on Aug. 1, as a possible spot for his next appearance.

Also possible if Starticus continues to improve are local turf opportunities such as the Grade 2, $200,000 Play the King, a seven-furlong race on Aug. 23, and the Grade 2, $500,000 Nearctic, at six furlongs on Oct. 4.

Kentucky Bear gone until fall

Kentucky Bear, who has competed in top company since winning his debut over one mile at Gulfstream Park in January, is taking a break and scheduled to resume racing in the fall.

"He'll have about six weeks off, be back in training in mid-August, and ready to run in October," said Reade Baker, who trains Kentucky Bear for the Bear Stable of Danny Dion.

Since his maiden score, Kentucky Bear finished seventh in Gulfstream's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, third in Keeneland's Grade 1 Blue Grass, a troubled sixth in Pimlico's Grade 1 Preakness, and a tired last of 10 in a Grade 3 Colonial Turf Cup, which was run under monsoon-like conditions.

In the meantime, Baker is taking dead aim at a pair of $150,000 stakes at Woodbine on July 20 - with Bear Now on target for the Ontario Matron and Fatal Bullet drawing a bead on the Bold Venture.

Both runners are owned by Dion and both breezed five furlongs here Sunday with Bear Now going in a bullet 59.40 seconds and Fatal Bullet clocked in 1:00.80.

"Bear Now worked great," said Baker. "But Fatal Bullet was an impressive as you can get. He came his last quarter in 22 flat.

Bear Now, a Kentucky-bred filly, looms the probable choice in the Ontario Matron, a 1 1/16 mile race for fillies and mares, after winning the Hill 'n' Dale over the same distance here last time out.

Fatal Bullet, a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old gelding, had a three-race win streak snapped when he finished eighth in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park, and will be tackling older rivals in the Bold Venture at 6 1/2 furlongs.

"There are just no 3-year-old races left for him in Ontario," said Baker.

* Jennifer Morrison's first backstretch tour of the year will take place here Saturday. A free continental breakfast will be served beginning at 10:30 a.m., and the bus departs for the backstretch at 11 a.m. Morrison's next backstretch tour is scheduled for Aug. 3.