10/15/2004 12:00AM

Stem cell therapy gets Shacane to Premier's


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The use of embryonic stem cells for research is a hot topic in the upcoming presidential election in the United States, but you won't have a hard time convincing Toni and Mark Cloutier that the use of stem cells in treating injured horses is useful.

Toni Cloutier is the trainer of Shacane, who figures to be one of the favorites in the $100,000 Premier's Stakes at Hastings on Sunday. Her husband and assistant trainer, Mark Cloutier, does most of the galloping for the stable, and he's pretty amazed about how far Shacane has come since bowing his tendon while training in California in 2003.

Shacane won the 2002 Premier's and then was shipped to California for a winter campaign, but he never got to start. After bowing his tendon he was sent to a clinic, where they used stem cell therapy to treat what is usually a career-ending injury. When he resumed training at Hastings this spring, the Cloutiers had no real expectations.

"We really didn't know how far he would come back," said Mark Cloutier. "He had missed a whole year, and not many horses can come back from a bowed tendon and run at the same level."

They took their time with Shacane, mostly using long, slow gallops to build up his stamina, and finally got him to the races in late August. He ran a good fourth in the Hastings Speed Handicap.

"Actually we were surprised that he ran as well as he did," Cloutier said. "He was a much better horse going a distance, so it was pretty encouraging to see him run so well. The best thing was that he came back completely sound."

Shacane came back to beat a tough field of allowance sprinters Sept. 12 and then ran a tremendous race to finish second by a head to Metatron in the 1 1/8-mile Sir Winston Churchill on Sept. 26. Considering it was just his third start of the year and that he was coming back in two weeks following a 6 1/2-furlong sprint, it's not surprising that he came up just a bit short in the lane.

"He really showed his class," said Cloutier. "He was very tired and you could see his head turning sideways, but he never stopped trying."

The Cloutiers were a little concerned that Shacane's race in the Churchill took a lot out of him, but were pleasantly surprised when he bounced back pretty quickly. Still, they have gone very easy on him since then, and neither is sure if he's as tight as they would like going into a race that's 1 3/8 miles.

"I don't want to have a tired horse going into the race," said Toni Cloutier. "The Churchill was a hard race on him and he should be a lot tighter for it, but I didn't want to over-train him for the Premier's. Right now he's a sound and happy horse, and I want to keep him that way."

Trainer optimistic on Illusive Force

Illusive Force is looking to resume his winning ways in Sunday's Premier's after finishing second to Beau Brass in the Speed to Spare and third to Metatron in the Churchill. Prior to that, Illusive Force scored sharp wins in the B.C. Cup Classic and the Westerner at Northlands.

"I probably shouldn't have taken him back to Alberta the second time," said trainer Rob VanOverschot. "It's a hard trip, and he just wasn't himself going into the Churchill. He's doing well now and I expect him to run a big race. He galloped three times around this morning and was looking to go four."

Two sons of A.P. Indy on program

A.P. Indy is one of the world's best sires, and because he has a $300,000 stud fee, not many of his progeny make it to this part of the racing world. Surprisingly, there are two sons of A.P. Indy running at Hastings on Sunday. Sungold, a 2-year-old colt, should receive substantial support in the sixth race for maidens, and Indy Lead certainly looks playable at what should be a decent price in the Premier's.

A 6-year-old horse, Indy Lead had done most of his racing at Woodbine before being shipped to trainer Carl Anderson at Assiniboia Downs in midsummer. Indy Lead finished a fast-closing second in the 1 1/8-mile Gold Cup on Oct. 3, and Anderson thinks he will appreciate the extra distance of the Premier's.

"Roger Attfield had him at Woodbine and they sent him to me hoping to pick up some black type to increase his value as a stallion," said Anderson. "He earned that in the Gold Cup, but his value would increase quite a bit if he could get part of a Grade 3.

"It's a tough race, but he seems to like the track and that was a good work he had the other day," said Anderson, referring to a four-furlong move in 48.40 seconds on Tuesday. "He should run a good race."