11/01/2002 12:00AM

Twice more with feeling on turf

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The E.P. Taylor turf course, the scene of some of Woodbine's greatest moments, will go into hibernation following Sunday's program.

But first there is the not-so-small matter of a Sunday stakes doubleheader, the Labeeb and River Memories, to give the course a rousing send-off.

Both the Labeeb, for 3-year-olds and upward, and the River Memories, for fillies and mares, are overnight stakes contested over one mile. Both have proved to be very popular, attracting the maximum 14 entrants, plus three horses on the also-eligible list for the Labeeb.

This will be the first running of the Labeeb, which is named for the 1998 Atto Mile winner. The race was scheduled to attract another Atto Mile winner, Quiet Resolve, but he suffered a career-ending injury Thursday morning.

That leaves another consistent gelding, Steady Ruckus, as the

120-pound topweight and arguably the most accomplished runner in the Labeeb.

A 6-year-old, Steady Ruckus has won $689,479 and five stakes for owner Ed Lang and trainer Gil Rowntree. He is coming off a game score in the Bunty Lawless, a one-mile turf race restricted to Ontario-sired horses, which he won for the second time here Oct. 19.

And while he will be making his third start in five weeks on Sunday, Rowntree expects Steady Ruckus to deliver his usual steady effort.

"He's always doing good," said Rowntree. "It takes him one day to bounce back.

"He's always been consistent. Any time he doesn't show up there's a good reason for it, and that's not often."

Jockey Jim McAleney, who is enjoying a career year here, retains the mount on Steady Ruckus, who drew post 7.

Leading the opposition will be Zone Judge and Waltzin' Storm, a pair of 4-year-old colts who ran 1-2 in the Grade 3 Play the King over seven furlongs of turf here Aug. 17. That was the last appearance by Zone Judge, who later was sidelined by a recurring foot problem.

"He popped a pus pocket, and it took a while to come around," said Noel Randall, assistant to Dave Dwyer, who trains Zone Judge for Winston Penny. "He was off three or four weeks - he's had a bunch of works back, though. That's our only concern, whether he's tight enough."

Waltzin' Storm, who suffered his only loss in four 2002 outings in the Play the King, came back to win a classified allowance over 1 1/16 miles of turf here Sept. 2 for trainer Mark Casse.

Another interesting Labeeb entrant is Le Cinquieme Essai, a 3-year-old gelding who won Fort Erie's Prince of Wales this summer and is undefeated in two turf starts here for owner Bill Scott and trainer Paul Nielsen.

Strait From Texas tops River Memories

The filly to beat in the River Memories, named in honor of the 1987 Canadian International heroine, will be Strait From Texas, a 3-year-old owned by James Michael and trained by Paul Buttigieg.

Strait From Texas will be making her first start since Aug. 25, when she followed up her convincing win in the allowance prep by becoming a stakes winner here in the Ontario Colleen over a mile on turf.

Being Kentucky-bred, Strait From Texas does not have many local options. She seemed to have found an allowance spot here Sept. 27, but was scratched when the race came off the turf.

Buttigieg, however, is far from uneasy about the filly's recent inactivity.

"She's training well," said Buttigieg. "She's happy as can be. She's doing really good. If she gets a good trip, she'll be tough."

Strait From Texas will be making her fifth career start over a mile of turf and is a half-length away from being undefeated at the distance, her only loss coming in a second-place finish in a division of the Natalma here last fall.

"It's the perfect distance for her," said Buttigieg, who is less concerned about the fact Strait From Texas is facing older rivals than he is about the possibility of off turf.

"I ran her once on soft turf, at Keeneland [in fall 2001], and she didn't run any good," said Buttigieg, of Strait From Texas's seventh-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Green River.

Other leading River Memories candidates include Noble Strike, winner of the Belle Geste over 1 1/8 miles of turf here this summer, and Inish Glora, who is back with her own kind after finishing third in the Bunty Lawless.

Early Wisdom done for the year

Early Wisdom, winner of the Grade 3 Colonel R.S. McLaughlin Handicap for trainer Barb Pirie here Sept. 14, is through for the season after X-rays revealed a broken sesamoid in his right hind.

A 3-year-old owned and bred by Ken and Mike Ham, Early Wisdom had shown promise when winning his maiden here last October and was preparing for the Coronation Futurity when he suffered a broken sesamoid in his left hind.

Early Wisdom, who had bled while finishing last of eight when making his latest appearance in the Oct. 5 Durham Cup, had been pointing for the $125,000 Sir Barton, a race for Ontario-sired 3-year-old colts and geldings here Nov. 23.

"We figure he must have kicked the stall," said a disappointed Ken Ham, adding that Early Wisdom had started limping last week for no apparent reason.

* Woodbine's 2003 dates request, for a 167-day schedule that mirrors this season's, has been granted by the Ontario Racing Commission. The meeting will begin Saturday, March 22, and end Sunday, Nov. 30.

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