09/14/2003 12:00AM

Touch of the Blues takes Atto Mile

Michael Burns
Touch of the Blues edges past a stubborn Soaring Free to take the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Atto Mile at Woodbine on Sunday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Touch of the Blues ($12.90) staked his claim as the leading turf miler on the continent, with a determined half-length victory over Soaring Free in the seventh running of the Grade 1 Atto Mile Sunday at Woodbine.

Kent Desormeaux rode Touch of the Blues for Gainsborough Farm and trainer Neil Drysdale, the same combination which captured the 1998 Atto with Labeeb. Drysdale also sent out Hawksley Hill to finish first in the 1999 Atto, in which he was disqualified and placed fourth.

Desormeaux had Touch of the Blues about six lengths off the lead on the backstretch of the $1 million turf event. Wake At Noon and Chopinina dueled through fractions of :22.84 and :45.38, while being stalked by 3-1 favorite Wando and 5-1 shot Soaring Free.

The leaders faded exiting the turn, as Wando found room, and Wando then dueled with Soaring Free early in the stretch run. Soaring Free took control at the eighth pole, and gave way grudgingly to Touch of the Blues, who hit the front with a sixteenth left before edging away. Perfect Soul came from far back in the 11-horse field to nail Wando for third, and finished two and a quarter lengths behind the winner.

Completing the order of finish were Chopinina, Moonshine Hall, Freefourinternet, Sarafan, Numerous Times, Tap the Admiral and Wake At Noon. The final time was 1:33.39.

Desormeaux said Touch of the Blues, who was coming off a win in the Aug. 2 Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar, was in peak form.

"He was unbelievable today," Desormeaux stressed. "He was always at my fingertips, ready to explode. I was painting the fence until the quarter pole. After we straightened away for home, and when I was able to give him a clear path to the leader, I didn't get to him as quickly as I thought I would. Fortunately, he stuck to his task, and just grinded it out. I think he's best miler in the country-maybe in the world."

Jockey Patrick Husbands said he wasn't disappointed with the performance by 3-year-old Wando, which was his first attempt against older runners. "I had a perfect trip," said Husbands. "You really have to take your hat off to Wando, after winning the (Canadian) Triple Crown. He ran a fantastic race."

Drysdale said Touch of the Blues, who earned $600,000, will make his next start in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile Oct. 4 at Keeneland, before a possible engagement in the Breeders' Cup Mile Oct. 26 at Santa Anita.