08/10/2005 12:00AM

Two class-droppers looking tough to beat

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sweetgum and Charming Ruckus, both of whom are dropping in class, could prove the fillies to beat in an interesting pair of allowance races here Friday.

Sweetgum, a 4-year-old trained by Mike Keogh, will be looking to end a nine-race drought in the fifth race, a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

In her last start, over the same distance and course here July 23, Sweetgum was beaten just two lengths as the fourth-place finisher in a second-level allowance.

"We ran her a condition over her head because there was nothing else for her," said Keogh. "I thought she ran a big race."

Keogh also was encouraged by the fact that Sweetgum battled back in the stretch after yielding the early lead on the final turn.

"The last eighth of a mile she really jumped into gear, and came on again," said the trainer.

Emile Ramsammy replaces the meet's leading rider, apprentice Emma Wilson, aboard Sweetgum.

Wilson is staying with Lotus Land, a filly owned by Sam-Son Farm whom she guided to victory in a B-caliber maiden special weight race over 1 1/16 miles on turf here last time out.

Charming Ruckus, trained by Malcolm Pierce, has made her last three starts in stakes races and will be competing under second-level allowance terms in the seventh race Friday.

A 3-year-old filly, Charming Ruckus will have to contend with several older rivals but should find the company to be to her liking after facing the likes of Gold Strike and Lemon Maid in stakes earlier this year.

In her last start, the July 10 Ontario Damsel for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies over 6 1/2 furlongs on the grass, Charming Ruckus ended fifth, 4 1/4 lengths back.

Pierce would have entered Charming Ruckus in the one-mile turf prep for the Ontario Colleen Handicap here Saturday had Friday's raced not filled.

"This is probably the right spot for her," said Pierce. "She's a come-from-behind sprinter. As long as there's some speed in there, she'll come running."

Gold Strike out, Higher World in

Gold Strike, who won the Labatt Woodbine Oaks and finished third in the Queen's Plate in her last start June 26, had been slated to return in the seven-furlong Duchess on Saturday, but her trainer, Reade Baker, elected to extend her vacation.

The knowledge that Gold Strike would not be participating played a role in trainer Mark Casse's decision to keep Higher World here for the Duchess, which will offer a purse of $162,150. Higher World, owned by Seasoft Stable, also had been under consideration for Sunday's $200,000, 1 1/16 mile Monmouth Oaks.

"It's very hot right now," said Casse, citing another factor in the decision to stay home. "She's training really well, and I don't want to go and upset her."

Higher World, winner of the Grade 2 Mazarine over 1 1/16 miles here last year, is coming off a second-level allowance win at that distance but Casse is not concerned with Saturday's cutback to seven furlongs.

"I don't think it's a big deal," said Casse. "I still haven't decided what she likes best."

Higher World will break from post 2 in the Duchess, with Emile Ramsammy retaining the mount.

The expected favorite in the Duchess is Lemon Maid, trained by Pierce. Lemon Maid's only defeat in four starts came at the hands of Gold Strike, in the 1 1/16-mile Selene here May 22.

Lemon Maid drew the rail and will be ridden by Todd Kabel.

Completing the field are Hatpin, South Bay Cove, Roving Angel and Silver Impulse.

South Bay Cove, trained by Roger Attfield, will be making her seasonal bow. She breezed four furlongs on the training track in 47.60 seconds here Wednesday morning.

Casse mapping out campaigns

Casse still plans to proceed with two invasions later this month, with Ballado Dancer headed for the Grade 3, $150,000 Sapling at Monmouth on Aug. 20 and Accountforthegold on target for the $150,000 Albany at Saratoga on Aug. 24.

Stewart Elliott has the call on Ballado Dancer, while Richard Migliore has been booked to ride Accountforthegold.

On the local front, Casse also is looking toward the $125,000 Ontario Debutante, a six-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies here Aug. 20.

Casse has three nominees for the Debutante and plans to start Tasha's Delight and Top Notch Lady, both of whom won their only start.

Howaboutrightnow, the barn's other Debutante nominee, is looking to the turf with the Grade 3 Natalma, a one-mile race for 2-year-old fillies here Sept. 11, her major target.

Howaboutrightnow on Wednesday worked five furlongs on the training track turf course in 1:02.60.

Casse notes that R Obsession, a 4-year-old half-sister to Howaboutrightnow, has won three stakes on the turf while competing in Florida.

* Saturday's program was also expected to include the $75,000 Izvestia, a 1 1/16-mile overnight stakes for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds and upward, but the race was called off after drawing only four entrants.