07/30/2003 11:00PM

Two are primed for first stakes

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Leading Role and Chopinina, who are both seeking their first stakes victory, are the main contenders in Saturday's $169,050 Royal North Handicap, a six-furlong turf dash for fillies and mares at Woodbine.

Leading Role won the allowance prep for the Royal North under Emile Ramsammy despite encountering some trouble along the way, according to her trainer and part-owner, Gail Casselman.

"The horse on the lead came over on her a little just before the turn, and Emile had to yank her up," Casselman said. "It didn't seem to bother her. I think she's gotten better with age. She had a wonderful winter at Payson Park. She came back here and trained really well, better than ever."

Leading Role finished fourth in her only dull effort this year, the June 15 Adena Springs Stakes at Fort Erie. Casselman said she regretted running her that day.

"I don't think that race suited her," Casselman admitted. "Once it came off the turf, I probably shouldn't have gone. She ended up behind a wall of horses, which wasn't to her liking, and I don't think she liked being hustled going five-eighths."

Chopinina was voted the 2002 Sovereign Award as champion turf female on the strength of her second-place finish to Good Journey in the Grade 1 Atto Mile.

Trained by John Alec Fehr, Chopinina was second when she came off the sidelines in the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes, but she failed to stay 1 1/8 miles most recently, finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Dance Smartly Handicap.

Chopinina usually does her optimum running on the front end, so it will be interesting to see how she handles the turnback in distance. Todd Kabel replaces Ramsammy as her rider.

United States shippers have captured the last three runnings of the Grade 3 Royal North, and they are well represented in Saturday's renewal.

Trainer Graham Motion, who won the Royal North in 2000 and 2001 with Confessional, will saddle Twice as Sweet, a recent allowance winner at Colonial Downs.

Multiple Wins is making her second start following a $60,000 claim by trainer Linda Rice, who took last year's Royal North with Quick Blue.

Formada, trained by David Donk, rallied wide to post a third-place finish in the July 6 Buckland Stakes at Colonial.

Also entered are Mille Feville, Alpha Heat, Mysterious Affair, Spanish Decree, and Marisa Go.