08/07/2003 12:00AM

Tiller filly fit for Duchess


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Winter Garden, perhaps the best 3-year-old filly sprinter at Woodbine, heads a field of nine in Saturday's $167,250 Duchess Stakes, a first-rate supporting feature on Breeders' Stakes Day.

Winter Garden is in the midst of a highly productive campaign for owner Frank DiGiulio Jr. and trainer Bob Tiller. She won her first two starts of the year, including the six-furlong Star Shoot Stakes, then finished third after pressing a fast pace on a dead rail going 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 1 Selene Stakes.

Winter Garden was second to the heavily favored New York invader Harmony Lodge in her penultimate outing, against older opponents, in the seven-furlong Sweet Briar Too Stakes. She won the allowance prep for the Duchess in workmanlike fashion, while earning her second straight Beyer Speed Figure in the 90's.

"I thought she won her last race fairly easily, with her ears up, looking for other horses," Tiller said. "Her only disappointing race was her last one as a 2-year-old. She's learned to relax more in her races this year."

Tiller believes Winter Garden has retained her sharpness heading into the Duchess.

"She's going into it as good as she can," Tiller said. "She's ready, willing, and able. She breezed a real slow five-eighths last weekend. She didn't make time, but I'm not concerned about it. She's a very good filly. Up to seven-eighths, I think she's the top 3-year-old filly on the grounds."

Also entered in the Duchess are Eclipse Bay, Beautiful Baroness, Littlemiss Sparkle, Sanctified, Miss Crissy, Finally Here, Power Gem, and Smart Angel.

Littlemiss Sparkle heads a solid United States contingent in the Grade 3 event. She earned the highest Beyer in the Duchess field (97) when she finished second in a May 17 allowance at Churchill, but was a distant fourth most recently, in the Grade 3 Azalea BC Stakes at Calder. Her trainer, Lynn Whiting, sent out 2002 Duchess runner-up For Rubies.

Finally Here, based at Churchill with trainer Tom Amoss, is coming off a daylight win in a $40,000 optional claimer at Ellis Park. She graduated in a slow seven-furlong maiden special at Charles Town in April.

Sanctified, an Ontario-bred trained by Patrick Biancone, won her debut at Santa Anita in January and was a closing third last time out, in an allowance contest in the slop at Monmouth.

Eclipse Bay has run two strong races this year for trainer Eric Coatrieux. She was recently third against older rivals here in the restricted Kamar Stakes.