08/01/2003 11:00PM

Taiaslew in for fight of his life in derby

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Western Canadian superstar Taiaslew tops the largest Manitoba Derby field seen here in years as he tries for his fifth consecutive win on a stakes-filled card.

Also on tap at Assiniboia Downs on Monday will be the $40,000 Winnipeg Futurity, a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds; the $35,000 Wheat City, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward; and the $35,000 Jack Hardy, a one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies.

Woodbine and its teletheaters will be among the outlets offering simulcast wagering on the Grade 3, $100,000 Manitoba Derby.

Taiaslew will be meeting the toughest field of his life in the 1 1/8-mile race. Not only will he be going farther than he has ever gone before but he will also have other speed horses to contend with on the lead.

The 55th running of the Manitoba Derby has attracted a field of 10, many of whom have similar running styles. Six of the 10 runners are pace-pressing types, two are speed horses, and two are stalkers. The race could be decided by who gets the best trip.

Taiaslew is trained by Greg Tracy and owned by his wife, Shelli, and Stan Ryan. Taiaslew has won 8 of 9 lifetime starts, including seven stakes. He is perfect in four starts this year, having won the Derby Trial here and the President's, Hoofprint on My Heart, and Grade 3 Alberta Derby at Stampede Park.

Taiaslew's latest win, the 1 1/16-mile Derby Trial July 13, was probably his least impressive performance of the year but he was racing over an unfamiliar surface and there was a strong headwind that day. He simply did what he had to do to win.

If his class is questionable, fans will find out on Monday. Regular rider Real Simard gets the call.

Big Glori is one horse in the derby who could make it particularly rough on Taiaslew, who likes to run on or near the lead.

Big Glori shows only one winning running style: on the lead and rolling. Trained by James B. McCoy, Big Glori comes off a romping front-end victory in a $34,000 conditioned allowance at Arlington Park going 1 1/8 miles. Canterbury riding champ Derek Bell will be aboard Big Glori for the first time.

With Taiaslew and Big Glori gunning it up front, the two main threats will be Pants N Kisses, who should be pressing the pace, and the stalker Hero's Pleasure.

Pants N Kisses, trained by Dave Cotey, ships in from Woodbine off a fifth-place finish, beaten 7 3/4 lengths by Mobil, in the July 12 Toronto Cup.

The Manitoba Derby probably represents a class drop for Pants N Kisses, who was racing on turf for the first time in the Toronto Cup. Pants N Kisses proved his worth on June 8 with a win in the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park Stakes. Woodbine rider Constant Montpellier, who won this race in 2001 with Stage Classic, has the mount.

Hero's Pleasure is a stalker with proven class. Trained by multiple Canterbury Park training champion Doug Oliver, Hero's Pleasure has one of the best stamina pedigrees in the race but has yet to go this far in his career.

In his most recent start, Hero's Pleasure was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths after lacking a path in the stretch in a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance race at Canterbury.

Two starts back he finished second, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, going a mile in the Canterbury Park Derby. Canterbury Park rider Scott Stevens will be in the saddle.

Rounding out the field are Northern Affair, Beetrap, Sand Rush, Jubilation, Fancy Bru, and Wild Ruler.

Northern Affair could be the dark horse in the field. He displayed tremendous talent before coming up flat in the Derby Trial, and he could benefit from the addition of Lasix.