03/21/2002 1:00AM

They're off in Canada!


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Olympian stole the show on opening day of the 2001 Woodbine meet, winning a $100,000 optional claimer in a romp while sizzling five furlongs in a track-record 56.07 seconds.

On Saturday, Olympian will try to try to duplicate that phenomenal feat in the $101,800 Briartic Handicap, the opening day feature of the 2002 Woodbine meet.

The 168-day stand, which concludes Dec. 1, will have a record overnight purse distribution of about $65 million and a record stakes schedule exceeding $19 million. Purses for maiden special weight and allowance races have been increased by 12 percent this year.

Racing will be conducted Friday through Sunday until May 1, when Wednesdays will be added. Thursdays will be added June 6.

A new wager, the Pick 6, will be offered on weekends and holidays. Sixty percent of the pool will be carried over if there are no winning tickets, with the remaining 40 percent paid out as a consolation. The Pick 6, a $1 base bet, will encompass the final six races on a card.

Superfecta wagering will be offered on the fifth and the final races of each card.

Olympian capped his 2001 campaign with a controversial score over Praise From Dixie in the Kennedy Road Stakes. Praise From Dixie's connections appealed the Kennedy Road result, alleging that Olympian's rider, Todd Kabel, hit Praise From Dixie on the nose in the stretch. The Ontario Racing Industry Board of Appeal upheld the appeal, a decision which has been appealed to the Ontario Racing Commission by Olympian's owners, Rexdale Stable and trainer John Cardella.

Olympian breezed a half-mile over the training track in 48.80 seconds last Saturday under Kabel. "Todd said that's the best he's ever felt," Cardella said.

Rounding out the field for the five-furlong Briartic will be Mr. Epperson, Wake at Noon, Balancethebudget, and Sam Lord's Castle.

Mr. Epperson won the 2001 Sovereign Award as champion sprinter on the strength of his solid mid-season form. He won three stakes on dirt and turf last year for trainer Scott Fairlie.

Wake at Noon, a Sovereign finalist for champion sprinter in 2001, has worked powerfully for trainer Abraham Katryan. He went on an early season tear last year, winning the Jacques Cartier Stakes and finishing a close second in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont.

Katryan, who is using the Briartic as a prep for the April 7 Jacques Cartier, doesn't think the abbreviated distance will be a problem for Wake at Noon. "Three-quarters is his ideal distance, Katryan pointed out, "but he's ready to go."