06/02/2006 12:00AM

Trial a must-win for Ascot Bill

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Plate Trial traditionally is the local prep of choice for the $1 million Queen's Plate, which will be run this year on June 25 here at Woodbine.

This year's running of the $150,000 Plate Trial goes Sunday, with a field of eight set to compete over 1 1/8 miles.

While the focus will be on stakes winners Edenwold, Atlas Shrugs, Thinking Out Loud, and Pyramid Park, the others will be looking to take a larger step up toward the Plate.

One who fits that description is Ascot Bill, who is coming off a third-place finish under apprentice jockey Justin Stein in a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles here May 14.

Ascot Bill broke poorly in that race, which was his first around two turns, and lacked a clear run through the stretch.

But Steve Attard, who trains Ascot Bill for owner-breeder Les Pereira, said the gelding's troubles that day ran even deeper.

"Something happened to him, and he cut his mouth," said Attard. "His tongue-tie was right in the cut.

"Early in the race Justin had no control; the horse was throwing his head around."

Attard had the option of running Ascot Bill in an allowance race here Friday but said he believes the Plate Trial will serve a better purpose.

"If we don't win the Plate Trial, I don't think we should be in the Plate," said Attard. "There are so many decent horses going straight to the Plate - Wanna Runner, Malakoff, Shillelagh Slew."

Malakoff will be coming off a smashing score in the Grade 3 Marine here May 20.

Shillelagh Slew, who missed the Marine due to illness, is training up to the Queen's Plate after winning a first-level allowance over seven furlongs here April 29 in his only start of the season.

Non-Plate nominee takes allowance

The Friday allowance race that Ascot Bill passed in favor of the Plate Trial was won by Royal Challenger, who is not eligible for the Queen's Plate.

Royal Challenger, owned by Stronach Stable and trained by Brian Lynch, was a game winner of the first-level allowance for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, coming on again to prevail by a neck.

Although he is Canadian-bred, Royal Challenger is not eligible for the Queen's Plate. The colt, who did not begin his career until December, was making his fourth career start and recording his second win in as many starts here Friday.

Seeking Shelter and Bridgecut, the only two Plate eligibles in Friday's five-horse field, finished second and third.

Bridgecut was beaten a total of 4 3/4 lengths.

Unification forced to play catch-up

Unification, who was nominated for the Plate Trial, is playing catch-up but has not been ruled out as a candidate for the Queen's Plate.

Unification, owned by Darley Stable, started twice here as a 2-year-old, shipping in to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race on Sept. 17 and returning to win the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Grey on Oct. 10.

Following a disappointing three-start campaign in Dubai, Unification returned to trainer Eoin Harty this spring and breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Belmont last Tuesday.

Harty acknowledged that getting Unification to the Queen's Plate is a tenuous project.

"We're kind of running out of time, certainly, but that's the direction I'm heading," said Harty. "I don't have enough time to give him a race. It would be too quick before the Queen's Plate to come back."

Sweet Breanna pointing to Oaks

Attard and Pereira also have a very interesting candidate for the June 11 Woodbine Oaks in Sweet Breanna, who was a convincing winner of a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles here May 13.

The Woodbine Oaks, a $500,000 race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, goes at 1 1/8 miles.

"So far, she's great," said Attard, who sent out Sweet Breanna to breeze six furlongs in 1:13.60 here last Saturday.

Stein, who piloted Sweet Breanna to her maiden victory over 1 1/16 miles here last fall and in each of her two starts this year, has the call for the Oaks.

"He gets along with the horse," said Attard. "He knows her really well."

* The Toronto Thoroughbred Racing Club will hold its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the third-floor Champions lounge here at Woodbine.