11/12/2003 1:00AM

Tiller not done with career year yet


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Bob Tiller has had plenty of good years since he began training horses in 1973, but until this year none was better than 2001.

Tiller was the leading trainer in races won here, with 62, and in money won, with $3,481,653. He won 12 stakes, and among his stakes winners were Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male Win City and champion 2-year-old male Rare Friends. He also collected his first Sovereign Award as outstanding trainer.

But heading into the final three weeks of this meeting, Tiller already has rewritten his personal record book.

As of Wednesday morning Tiller topped the Woodbine standings in races won, with 65; in money won, with $3,615,276; and in stakes races won, with 13.

"I'm very satisfied with my year," said Tiller. "In my opinion, this has been the best year of my life."

And it's far from being over yet.

Tiller, who also won one stakes race at Fort Erie this year, with Rare Friends, and one at Finger Lakes, with Cheap Talk, hopes to be represented in five of the last nine stakes scheduled to be run at this meeting.

First up will be Winter Garden, who is slated to start in Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Bessarabian, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares.

A Kentucky-bred 3-year-old, Winter Garden has won two stakes and banked $372,186 this year for his owner, Frank DiGiulio, who is Tiller's principal client.

Winter Garden will be seeking her third straight win over older fillies and mares, with her most recent effort a game score in the six-furlong Ontario Fashion.

The Bessarabian, said Tiller, "will be tough, but she's a top filly, up to seven-eighths of a mile."

On Sunday, Tiller plans to send out Twisted Wit for the $100,000 Sunny's Halo, a 6 1/2-furlong race for Canadian-breds. The Sunny's Halo is an overnight stakes and will require at least five entrants to be carded.

Twisted Wit, an Ontario-bred gelding, began his career with three straight wins, including the Vandal Stakes at six furlongs and the Simcoe at seven furlongs.

But Twisted Wit has been less effective in two subsequent tries around two turns, finishing fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Grey and sixth in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, where he acted up before the start of the race and was very rank during the running.

"He's a quirky horse," said Tiller. "He gives us a lot of trouble at the gate and with his running habits, but he's a very good horse. He'll bounce back."

Twisted Wit, owned by Rolph Davis, has banked $234,855.

Tiller also hopes to be a player in Wednesday's $125,000 Classy 'N Smart, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired fillies and mares, with Brass in Pocket.

Bred and owned by DiGiulio, Brass in Pocket recorded the second stakes win of her career in last year's Classy 'N Smart. She has added four more stakes tallies this year, at distances of six or seven furlongs, and compiled earnings of $397,380 for 2003.

Tiller also has a candidate for the $125,000 Sir Barton, with Executive Legacy tabbed for that 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 3-year-old colts and geldings here Nov. 22.

Owned by Rocco Marcello, Executive Legacy has won 3 of 10 starts and $142,515 in an up-and-down campaign.

Last out, Executive Legacy finished fifth of seven against older rivals in a second-level allowance at seven furlongs here Sunday.

Tiller also is looking forward to running Forever Grand in the $125,000 Kennedy Road, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and upward here on the next-to-last day of the meeting, Nov. 29.

Forever Grand would be seeking his fourth consecutive stakes win and fifth stakes win of the year in the Kennedy Road, with his victories coming at six furlongs and 6 1/2 furlongs.

An Ontario-bred 4-year-old owned by Tiller and DiGiulio, Forever Grand has earned $385,120 this year.

Day-to-day operations are key

Stakes success aside, Tiller takes pride in the overall scope of his operation.

"I think we cover this game in every aspect," said Tiller. "We buy yearlings, develop horses, claim a few. It's hard work, and I couldn't do it without a great crew."

Tiller, who started the season with a pool of about 60 horses, maintains a string of 45 at the track. Looking ahead to next year, Tiller purchased 24 yearlings at the recent Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky.

A Bit O'Gold back in a hurry

Trainer Catherine Day Phillips had planned to put away A Bit O'Gold for the season after the 2-year-old gelding ran his record to 3 for 3 in the Coronation Futurity here Nov. 1.

Day Phillips obviously had a change of heart, though, and will send out A Bit O'Gold for Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Display Stakes, which has attracted a field of six and will be worth $135,625.

"I didn't like the idea of running him back so close together," said Day Phillips, "but he seems to have come out of the Coronation in really good order, and the race is right here.

"He's been training really well, and doing everything well. He seems to be improving with racing."

A Bit O'Gold runs for a syndicate known as the Two Bit Racing Stable, formed by Day Phillips, who also is a partner in the gelding's ownership.