11/29/2002 12:00AM

Subtle drop may be all Maestro needs

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - El Gran Maestro, a respectable fourth in his last start in the Coronation Futurity, appears to be capable of calling the tune here in Sunday's $142,250 Kingarvie Stakes.

The Kingarvie, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 2-year-olds, represents a subtle step down in class for El Gran Maestro, who was beaten by 6 1/2 lengths when facing Canadian-breds in the Coronation.

Arco's Gold, who won his third race in as many starts, and Mobil, a double stakes winner and a Sovereign Award finalist, finished in a dead heat for first in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation, but Mobil was disqualified and placed second.

"The first two that were in front of him were pretty nice horses," said Jake Nemett, who trains El Gran Maestro for the Fieldstone Farm of Ron Dalmas. "Those two, and Wando, look like they're the top three Canadian-breds."

While Nemett initially had not been particularly impressed, he soon began to warm to El Gran Maestro.

"After a few works, he was all right," said Nemett. "He showed some ability."

El Gran Maestro didn't take long to attract attention in the afternoon, as he lit up the tote board with an $87.20 mutuel after rallying to win his debut at 5 1/2 furlongs here

Sept. 20.

El Gran Maestro then finished second in the Frost King, a seven-furlong Ontario Sire Stakes here Oct. 9, before trying two turns for the first time in the Coronation.

"I think he's better going long," said Nemett. "I hope he is, anyway."

Jono Jones retains the mount on El Gran Maestro, who will break from post 7 in the field of nine.

The other leading Kingarvie contender is Canasta, who finished second to the undefeated Sovereign Award finalist Added Edge in the seven-furlong Swynford here

Sept. 22.

Canasta, owned by Hillbrook Farm and trained by John Ross, followed up with a fifth-place finish in the Frost King and then ran fourth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, in a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles.

"He's been doing quite well," said Ross. "If I can get him to run back to that race when he was second to Added Edge, I think he'd have a good chance. I'm hoping I can get him peaked up to that again."

Constant Montpellier will be back aboard Canasta, who drew post 8.

Timeform is the other stakes-placed member of the Kingarvie lineup. He finished second when debuting in the Simcoe and then third in the Frost King. In his last start, Timeform was a well-beaten fifth in the Coronation.

Black Label is the only horse in the field to have won at the Kingarvie distance, that victory coming in a $40,000 claiming race in his last start here Oct. 18.

Kabul may have future on turf

Nemett also enjoyed success this year with Kabul, a 2-year-old filly owned by Dalmas.

Kabul also surprised at first asking, returning $35.50 after winning for a $50,000 price at five furlongs here June 13, and capped her campaign with a closing third-place finish in last Sunday's 1 1/16-mile Ontario Lassie.

"[Jockey Jim] McKnight said she was kind of fooling around at the gate, and she kind of got left," said Nemett. "Then she wouldn't switch leads down the backside, but she started to pick up on the turn.

"I think she'll be better on the grass," added Nemett. "She has a grass foot and everything, but I never got a chance to try her."

Steady Ruckus tries marathon

Trainer Gil Rowntree had an unusual choice to make this weekend on behalf of Steady Ruckus, the 6-year-old whom he trains for Ed Lang.

Rowntree was considering running Steady Ruckus in either Saturday's feature, the six-furlong Kennedy Road, or in Sunday's co-feature, the 1 3/4-mile Valedictory Handicap.

In the end, Rowntree opted to go the extra mile and will run Steady Ruckus in the marathon, which is the final stakes race of the Canadian season.

"If the other race had come up with a short field I might have gone there," said Rowntree. "His only chance was to come from behind, and he might have run into traffic.

"So, I decided to try him long."

Steady Ruckus, a son of Bold Ruckus, already has enjoyed a career year, with three stakes scores and earnings of $254,309. But the farthest the gelding has traveled is 1 1/4 miles, and that race came on the turf against maidens here in the summer of 1999.

Rowntree admits he does not know exactly what will transpire in the Valedictory.

"It's a different race, when you go over a mile and a quarter," said Rowntree. "That's when cheap horses can beat good horses. But he'll try - there's nothing else for him to do, anyway - and then he'll go for a long rest.

"I don't know of anybody that's coaxed a Bold Ruckus to go a mile and three-quarters, but it wouldn't hurt to be a flagship."

Mactaquac still active at age 11

Mactaquac, one of the grand old men of Canadian racing, worked six furlongs in 1:16.80 on the fast main track here on a cold and snowy Friday morning in preparation for a winter campaign at Laurel.

Now 11 years old, Mactaquac began his career here in September 1993 and completed his first campaign that Dec. 8 at Greenwood, the final day of Thoroughbred racing at that former downtown Toronto track.

Although he failed to finish better than fourth in four starts here this year for owner-trainer Mike Wright, Mactaquac did win for $25,000 at Laurel last Jan. 21 and is slated to compete at the 2003 Woodbine meeting.

Mactaquac is one of several horses Wright will be sending to Laurel, where they will be trained by his brother-in-law, Dale Capuano.