04/30/2004 12:00AM

Stronach string large and able


FORT ERIE, Ontario - A large division of Frank Stronach runners will make Fort Erie home this year, as Stronach Stable, which had no stalls at Fort Erie in 2003, has 30 stalls for the current 81-day meet.

In charge of training the 40-plus runners, some of whom will be on the bench at Stronach's Adena Springs farm in Aurora, will be Justin Nixon. He was hired by the organization in November 2002, just as the Fort Erie meet was ending.

Last year was a good one for Nixon, 34. He won 14 races with 44 starters, for an exceptional win rate of 32 percent.

After learning the philosophy of Adena Springs under the tutelage of farm manager Danny Vella at Ocala for a winter, Nixon was sent out on his own with a string in Maryland. His results earned high marks.

Mike Rogers, business manager of the racing operations of Stronach Stable, said that the first load of horses should arrive Tuesday.

"The horses are in good order and fit," said Rogers. "And they have conditions. Justin is bringing 19 that he currently has at Pimlico. And some will come from Adena Springs South and some from Adena Springs North."

Rogers said it made sense to compete at Fort Erie as well as Woodbine, since Stronach has such a strong presence in Ontario.

"Justin can take advantage of our resident vet, Dr. [Dan] Duncan, and our training center at Adena Springs North."

Sam-Son runners fill 10 stalls

Another high-profile Canadian outfit that will introduce a unit at Fort Erie is Sam-Son Farm. Trainer Mark Frostad has put his assistant, Hugh Chatman, in charge.

"We'll have 10 stalls," said Chatman, an ex-jockey who joined Sam-Son in 1987. "We have a bunch of runners - a couple of maidens and some 'other-thans.' We have Mountain Beacon for the dirt and Fly Smartly, Classic Sleigh, and Roman Peace for the grass."

Chatman, 43, said the five-furlong races that are presently being carded are a little too short for his runners. The victories will come when they stretch out, he predicts.

He feels that Bet on the Rainbow needs only a little luck to make it to the winner's circle.

"She has been in the thick of things all the time," he said. "Same thing with Roman Peace. He has been running at New Orleans during the winter. He won at Woodbine last year and has been running in the money."

Roman Peace is the brother of Sam-Son's Eye of the Sphynx, who won impressively at first asking at the tail end of the recent Keeneland meet. She is considered a serious contender for the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks June 13.

Matchmaker stallions named

Fort Erie's first stakes of the year is the Expedite Plus on June 6. After that, on June 13, is the $50,000 Adena Springs Matchmaker. The five-furlong turf race for fillies and mares is sponsored by the Stronach organization.

Each top-three finisher in the Matchmaker is rewarded with a season to one of three Stronach stallions. Offered this year are Preakness winner Red Bullet, multiple Grade 1 winner Milwaukee Brew, and Gold Case, who was undefeated in three lifetime starts, including two stakes.