12/08/2004 1:00AM

Stamina can trump class in Valedictory marathon


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The 1 3/4-mile Valedictory Handicap, which will be run for the 52nd time as the closing-day feature on Sunday at Woodbine, has long been a fan favorite because of its marathon distance.

The Valedictory has been won by a variety of horses since being moved from Greenwood to Woodbine in 1994, and class has often taken a backseat to stamina in the handicapping equation. Long-winded longshots exiting claiming and allowance events have often fared well, even after coming out of middle-distance races.

Hydrogen came off a victory in 1 1/16-mile second-level allowance when he captured last year's running by a nose at 17-1. Going into the race, he had never won beyond 1 3/16 miles.

Lucky Molar was a close fifth in 1 1/16-mile Woodbine Slots Cup just before he won the 2002 Valedictory at 7-1 as a 7-year-old. His longest previous tally was in 1 1/4-mile optional claimer on the grass.

Long-distance specialist Queensgate upset champion older horse A Fleets Dancer when he prevailed at 9-1 in 2001, a month after winning a 1 1/4-mile optional claimer.

A Fleets Dancer left Queensgate about seven lengths back in second when he took the 2000 running as the favorite. He was coming off a narrow loss in the Grade 3 Autumn Handicap, which is now the Slots Cup.

Salty Note (9-1) got the job done in 1999 just two weeks after being claimed for $40,000 from a winning performance at 1 1/16 miles. His longest previous triumph came at that same distance.

Sunshine Journey sprung a 22-1 upset in 1998, which came a month after he ran second for a $32,000 claiming price going 1 1/16 miles. His farthest previous victory came in a nine-furlong allowance.

Cimarron Secret is the lone American invader to have won the Valedictory in the past 10 years. He scored at 5-1 in 1997, three weeks after finishing a close-up fifth in the Governor's Cup Handicap at Remington Park.

Whomsoever Proud lit up the tote board like a Christmas tree when he captured the 1996 renewal at 50-1. He was exiting a distant fourth-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer, but his triumph in the 1 3/8-mile Speed to Spare Championship at Northlands in 1994 suggested that 1 3/4 miles could be within his range.

Stellarina, part of a heavily favored entry in 1995, is the lone female to have won the race since 1994. She was coming off a runner-up placing against her own sex in the 1 1/4-mile Maple Leaf Stakes, and had won the 1 3/16-mile Tattling Handicap the previous year. She also defeated males as a 3-year-old in the 1994 Victoria Park Stakes.

Major Pots, who was beaten a nose in the 1993 Valedictory, won easily as the favorite in 1994, after taking a 1 1/4-mile allowance.

Trainer Hugo Dittfach won the Valedictory a record-tying four times as a jockey, the first time aboard Calais in 1959. He believes a laid-back individual is an ideal candidate to stay the long trip.

"The horse should be completely relaxed," Dittfach explained. "The horse has to wait for the jockey to move. Calais came from England, and he was a great grass horse. He would break really well, and then just drop right out of it. You could turn him completely loose, and he would never run until you asked him to."

Dittfach will saddle the 120-pound highweight, Norfolk Knight, in this year's running. He admits, however, that his horse could be up against it trying to beat the likely favorite, Daddy Cool.

Daddy Cool, trained by Sean Smullen for Stronach Stable, takes a four-race win streak into the race. He won back-to-back $32,000 claimers in August and September and then notched a $62,500 optional claimer before a workmanlike victory in the 1 1/2-mile allowance prep for the Valedictory.

Owner Frank Stronach has won the Valedictory twice, with Stellarina and All Canadian (1993).

Surprisingly, the prep hasn't produced a recent Valedictory winner, although Affirmed Feeling was narrowly beaten last year after romping in the prep. Look for Daddy Cool to end the drought on Sunday.

Raylene, who beat the boys going 1 3/8 miles in the 2003 Canadian Derby, is another serious contender.