10/17/2003 12:00AM

Two longshots trace back to Big Spruce

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The 66th running of the Canadian International on Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Secretariat's memorable "dash in the dark" down Woodbine's old inner turf course, completing his legendary career.

As thrilling as it was for Canadians to see Big Red in Toronto, it was too bad for Elmendorf Farm's gallant campaigner Big Spruce, a multiple Grade 1-winning son of Herbager, who chased Big Red home that day but got within only 6 1/2 lengths of the champ.

The next year, Big Spruce was second in the International again, this time to the superstar filly Dahlia.

Two longshot entrants in this year's 11-horse International field are directly related to Big Spruce, who retired with earnings of more than $670,000 and nine wins.

Sabiango, the German-bred 5-year-old who won the Group 1 Deutschland Preis at Dusseldorf in July and was recently fourth in the Turf Classic to Sulamani, is out of Spirit of Eagles, a winning daughter of the unraced Big Spruce mare Big Spirit.

Spirit of Eagles, by Beau's Eagle, was predominantly a dirt sprinter, but as a broodmare in Germany, she has produced six long-distance turf winners, including 2001 Arlington Million winner Silvano.

Two of Sabiango's five victories have come at the 12-furlong distance of the International, which will be just the fifth start of the year for the horse. He is listed as an 8-1 shot for the race.

At a lofty 30-1 is Gruntled, a bargain-basement weanling purchase who has obscure but impeccable bloodlines, as well as a connection to Big Spruce.

Gruntled, a 4-year-old colt who is almost black, went through the Tattersalls December foal sale in 1999 and brought just 600 guineas ($960 U.S.). He's a son of Blushing Flame, a Group 3-winning son of Blushing Groom whose dam, Nearctic Flame, is a full sister to Irish Derby winner Salsabil.

Big Spruce appears as the sire of Gruntled's granddam, the group-placed Talon D'aiguille, whose daughter Decant, by Roussillon, produced the colt.

Talon D'aiguille is a granddaughter of the Northern Dancer mare Royal Statute, a Windfields Farm producer who foaled stakes winners Akureyri and Awaasif.

Gruntled, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori in the International, recently won his first group race, the Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons Laffitte in France - his first start since May.

Trainer John Hammond, who will saddle Gruntled, also has Mer de Corail in the E.P. Taylor Stakes, the often overlooked co-feature on the International card.

Also a very dark-colored bay, Mer de Corail is a 4-year-old daughter of the classy stud Sadler's Wells, who sired 1999 Taylor winner Insight, also trained by Hammond.

Miss Tahiti, the dam of Mer de Corail, was a Group 1 winner as a 2-year-old and placed several times in Group 1's as a 3-year-old.

Mer de Corail, a 20-1 shot for the Taylor, comes off her first career win, in the listed Prix d'Automme at Longchamp in France.

The Taylor tends to be dominated by 3-year-old European fillies, and filling that bill in this year's running are favored Hi Dubai (a full sister to Breeders' Cup Turf winner Fantastic Light) and Baie (by the Green Dancer stallion Green Tune).