05/30/2005 11:00PM

Third time's the charm in Connaught

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Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Le Cinquieme Essai wins the Connaught Cup Stakes at Woodbine on Sunday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It was third-time lucky for Le Cinquieme Essai when it came to the .

Le Cinquieme Essai had finished ninth in the 2003 running and second last year before prevailing in game fashion in Sunday's Connaught Cup, a 1 1/16-mile turf race at Woodbine.

"He ran very, very well," said trainer Paul Nielsen, who has sent out Le Cinquieme Essai to win 9 of 20 career starts and $804,683 but was starting the gelding for the first time this season.

Le Cinquieme Essai, a 6-year-old owned and bred by Bill Scott, had been slated to make his first start of 2005 in the May 15 Connaught Cup prep but was scratched when that race was taken off the turf.

Nielsen, however, was far from concerned about missing the tightener.

"It was a bit of a blessing, no doubt in my mind," said Nielsen. "He actually went a bit forward in the next 10 days. I felt pretty comfortable, in general. He was pretty fit, and he runs good fresh."

The Grade 3, $300,000 King Edward Gold Cup, a 1 1/8-mile turf race here July 3, could be next on the agenda for Le Cinquieme Essai.

"I think a mile and an eighth is tough for him on this course, but we'll see how it unfolds," said Nielsen. "He seems to have come out of this race very well; I'm happy."

La Trillium may try turf

Le Cinquieme Essai wintered at Payson Park along with the rest of the Nielsen string, including La Trillium and Miss Filibuster, who have yet to start at this meeting.

"They all had a pretty good winter down there," said Nielsen. "They were down there quite late this year. The weather was so good, we stayed till the back end of April. They didn't get home until May 2."

La Trillium, a 5-year-old mare, did not make it to the races until last June but went on to win 3 of 4 starts and finish fourth in the Seaway Stakes.

Nielsen believes turf may be the next frontier for La Trillium, who had never raced or worked on the surface until she drilled five furlongs in 1:00.40 on the turf training course here last Wednesday.

"She worked very well," said Nielsen. "On turf, I thought she might relax a bit more. But, dirt or turf, she's just a good horse."

Miss Filibuster, also 5, is a half-sister to Le Cinquieme Essai and was clocked in 1:02 on the training track turf course last Wednesday.

Injury forces Slew Valley to retire

Slew Valley, an 8-year-old who defeated Le Cinquieme Essai by a nose in last year's Connaught Cup, had been gearing up for a rematch but instead finds himself on the way to the breeding shed.

"He pulled a suspensory a little," said Reade Baker, who trains Slew Valley for his Maryland-based breeder, Jim Hindman, and partner Alan Burkhardt.

"It's a recurring injury; he had it once, when he was a younger horse, and he was off for a year," Baker said. "He doesn't have a year left now. We'll really miss him, because he was a barn favorite."

Slew Valley, who is by Valley Crossing out of the Slewpy mare Slewway, retires with a record of 7 wins, 4 seconds, and 5 thirds and earnings of $784,620 from 33 career starts.

In addition to the Connaught Cup, Slew Valley won the King Edward here last spring and placed in three Grade 1 turf stakes in New York.

"We'll be looking to stand him someplace," said Baker. "Maryland, New York, or Ontario - it depends on who shows the most interest."

Niigon returns a winner

Sunday's card also marked a homecoming for Niigon, who had not raced here and had not won since capturing the Queen's Plate last June 27.

Niigon was coming into the race off the worst defeat of his career, a 49 1/2-length drubbing in the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland.

But the company, and the racetrack, obviously agreed with Niigon here Sunday, and the wagering public correctly tabbed the situation by sending him off as the 4-5 choice.

Competing at 1 1/16 miles and under second-level allowance conditions with regular rider Robert Landry in the irons, Niigon came from off the pace and was a convincing 2 1/4-length winner.

Niigon's Beyer Speed Figure of 99 was the second-highest of his career, falling one point short of the number yielded by his second-place finish in last summer's Prince of Wales at Fort Erie.

"He had been on the edges a lot," said Eric Coatrieux, who trains Niigon. "I wanted to make sure he would get his confidence back, and I think he did that."

Coatrieux admitted that he was concerned about the magnitude of Niigon's most recent defeat but was convinced it was solely due to the colt's dislike for Keeneland.

"He can't stand that track," said Coatrieux, who also had watched Niigon finish 23 1/2 lengths back in a maiden special race there last April. "I don't know why he hates it so much, but he does.

"After a race like that I was a little bit afraid for the horse, but he came out of it extremely well."

Niigon is scheduled to make his next start here July 1 in the Grade 3, $200,000 Dominion Day Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward.

The Dominion Day could mark a renewal of the rivalry between Niigon and A Bit O'Gold, who traded one-two finishes in the Plate and Prince of Wales. A Bit O' Gold went on to take the Sovereign Award as Canada's champion 3-year-old male.