08/06/2003 11:00PM

Strizzi assumes role of Triple Crown spoiler


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sentiment, not to mention mutuel support, will be overwhelmingly in favor of Wando when he looks to complete a sweep of the Canadian Triple Crown here in Saturday's Breeders' Stakes.

But there is also an allure to the role of spoiler, and Strizzi would appear to be the horse best equipped to play that part for Stronach Stable and trainer Malcolm Pierce in this year's renewal of the $500,000, 1 1/2-mile turf race.

Since the birth of the Canadian Triple Crown in 1959, six horses have swept the series, and six have won the first two legs - the Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales - but failed to sweep the series. Five of those horses were beaten in the Breeders' while Archers Bay in 1998 opted to skip the Breeders' and point for Saratoga's 1 1/4-mile Travers. The colt finished sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, then fourth in the Travers.

Lodge Hill, in 2000, is the only Triple Crown killer in the modern era of the series, which began in 1988 when the Prince of Wales, formerly a turf race, was changed to a 1 3/16-mile race on the dirt. Like his four predecessors who ended Canadian Triple Crown dreams by winning the Breeders', Lodge Hill was proven going a route on the turf.

Although Strizzi is proven on turf, he is a question mark at 1 1/2 miles because his longest turf race has been at 1 1/8 miles.

But Pierce, one of the top turf trainers on the grounds, can see no reason why Strizzi wouldn't thrive at the Breeders' distance.

"You never know till you try it, but it seems like it," said Pierce. "He just gallops along as long as you want. He's very ratable."

Pierce took a while to win his first stakes this year. It came when Alpha Saphire won the $250,000 Wonder Where, final leg of the triple tiara for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, for Stronach Stable here Monday.

Alpha Saphire was 7-1, and while she wasn't ending a triple tiara bid, her past performances and the manner in which she came into the Wonder Where are comparable to Strizzi's situation entering the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Both Strizzi and Alpha Saphire won their maidens over 1 1/16 miles on dirt here last fall and began their 2003 campaigns with impressive grass allowance victories at Gulfstream, which strongly suggested their preference for that surface.

Both took another crack at the main track at Woodbine this summer to determine whether they should pursue the local major targets in their divisions, which for Strizzi was the Queen's Plate and for Alpha Saphire the Woodbine Oaks.

Both flopped in those races and began pointing for major turf races.

Alpha Saphire successfully followed the blueprint. Will Strizzi do it, too?

"He had one huge race at Gulfstream," said Pierce, meaning the 1 1/16-mile turf allowance on Jan. 8 in which Strizzi came from left field for a going-away, 4 1/2-length win. "That made me think we could have some fun with him this summer."

Strizzi's second start at Gulfstream came on turf in the 1 1/16-mile Dave Feldman, in which he finished a troubled eighth but was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths.

In his final Florida appearance, Strizzi ran a distant seventh in a 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream allowance that was moved from turf to dirt.

"We chose to run, to see if he was going to be a Plate horse," said Pierce. "He didn't run a jump."

Strizzi then stopped at Keeneland, running a closing fifth but beaten four lengths in the Grade 3 Transylvania over a mile on turf. He returned home following that race and, in what may well turn out to be his final career start on the main track, finished a distant fifth behind Wando in the Marine.

"That was a last-ditch effort to get to the Plate," said Pierce. "We finally realized he wanted grass and started aiming him for the Breeders'."

Grass is what Strizzi has gotten since then, as he finished second here in both the one-mile Charlie Barley and in the 1 1/8-mile Toronto Cup. He was beaten only a length by Mobil in the Toronto Cup

Emile Ramsammy, who rode Strizzi in each of his three starts at 2 and in the Marine, returned to ride him in the Toronto Cup.

"He's been running hard," said Pierce. "He's not doing anything wrong. Emile knows him well, and he's had a couple of good works coming into this.

"I hope we're the spoiler."