12/04/2006 1:00AM

Tiller takes positives from rough year


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Bob Tiller has been first or second in the trainer standings at the last five Woodbine meetings, but this fall, he endured a six-week span in which his horses did not win a single race.

"When you go through that, you think you forgot how to do it," said Tiller. "It becomes very frustrating. We lost at least a dozen horses through serious injuries, and it showed this fall. But we're back doing it again, and I'm very pleased with our year when you consider all the ups and downs we've had."

Tiller, 57, will finish fourth in the trainer standings here this year, with 47 winners heading into the final week of the meeting. He is finishing on a high note, however, with four wins from his last seven starters, highlighted by Dancer's Bajan's nose score here in last Saturday's $125,800 Kingarvie Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

The Kingarvie marked Dancer's Bajan's second consecutive victory. In his previous start, he won the seven-furlong Frost King by a nose here Nov. 15.

Both the Kingarvie and Frost King were restricted to Ontario-sired 2-year-olds.

"We're very proud of this horse," said Tiller. "I thought he was really good for this race, but I still think there's more there than what he's shown. He seems to enjoy these battles. He's a scrapper. He just seems to know where the wire is."

Dancer's Bajan earned $223,000 in his first campaign, with three wins and two seconds from five starts.

"He'll get about six weeks off, start jogging indoors around the middle of January, and then come back here at the beginning of February," said Tiller. "I think he's got a future."

Dancer's Bajan was the seventh stakes winner of the meeting for jockey Corey Fraser, who also teamed with Tiller to win Fort Erie's Rainbow Connection with Top Ten List.

A big year for Midnight Shadow

Dancer's Bajan was the 10th stakes winner of the meeting for Tiller, who is tied for second in that category with Reade Baker. Both are one behind Mark Casse.

Six of Tiller's stakes wins have come with 2-year-olds, with Midnight Shadow contributing three and Spread the News contributing one.

Midnight Shadow was the only triple stakes winner in her division in Canada, and she led her division in earnings with $302,350. She finished her campaign with a fourth-place finish here in the Oct. 28 Fanfreluche Stakes.

"She had arthroscopic surgery on both knees," said Tiller. "It will be a little tight, but I think she can resume training after the first of February."

Midnight Shadow won the five-furlong Shady Well, for Ontario-foaled 2-year-old fillies; and the five-furlong Nandi and the six-furlong Victorian Queen, both for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies.

Frank DiGiulio, Anthony Onofrio, and Joe Peri are the owners of Midnight Shadow, whose regular rider was Ray Sabourin.

Palace Pier aces stakes debut

Trainer Darwin Banach capped off his career year by sending Palace Pier to an upset victory over odds-on favorite Catch the Thrill here in Sunday's $150,800 Ontario Lassie at 1 1/16 miles.

Catch the Thrill, who won the 1o1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth here Oct. 21, was pre-entered for the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies but did not make the starting lineup. Palace Pier, meanwhile, won her maiden at 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 4. The Ontario Lassie was her stakes debut.

"I thought it would be very difficult to beat Sam-Son's filly," said Banach, 41, who has won 18 races here this year and five more at Fort Erie as the private trainer for Bill Sorokolit and Bill Sorokolit Jr. "But we ended up on the lead, they kind of got shuffled back a little bit, and we managed to get home in time."

Palace Pier's success on Saturday puts her in the early mix for the 3-year-old filly division's top races, which are headed by the Woodbine Oaks.

"I've always liked her a lot, even from day one, when I saw her in Florida at the farm," said Banach.

The Ontario Lassie was Banach's third stakes win of the season. The first two came courtesy of Sky Conqueror, who captured the Gradeo2 King Edward and Grade 2 Northern Dancer here this summer and is the leading candidate for the Sovereign Award as older male turf horse.

Both Sky Conqueror and Palace Pier are homebreds owned by Bill Sorokolit Sr., who also could garner some Sovereign Award support in both the owner and breeder categories.

Palace Pier is a daughter of Out of Place, who also is the sire of the Sorokolit-owned and -bred stallion Union Place.

A Florida-bred turf specialist, Union Place won 6 of 35 starts, including two stakes, and earned $451,830. He now stands in Ontario at Silver Duck Stable for a fee of $3,500.

Kabel tops with 16 stakes

Palace Pier was the meet-leading 16th stakes winner here for Todd Kabel, who also is the regular rider of Sky Conqueror.

Kabel added three victories Sunday and is fifth in the standings with 100 wins heading into the last five days.

Emma-Jayne Wilson, with 139 winners through Sunday, will repeat as leading rider. Patrick Husbands will be the runner-up with 124 winners. Jim McAleney (110) and Justin Stein (107) are battling for third place.

Husbands leads in money won, with $7.18 million in purses. Wilson is next with $6.79 million, and Kabel is third with $6.71 million.

John Bruno, owner and breeder, dies

John Bruno, a longtime owner and breeder in Ontario, died in hospital last Saturday at age 72 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Bruno and his brother, Tom Bruno, bred and raced horses as Bruno Brothers Farm.

Their top horses included Blonde Executive, a filly who was Canada's champion sprinter in 2004, and her full brother Main Executive, who is a candidate for Sovereign Award sprinter honors this year.

A funeral service was scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Egan Funeral Home, 203 Queen Street South, Bolton.