08/03/2006 11:00PM

Uncle Max has big shoes to fill in Breeders'


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Catherine Day Phillips and jockey Jono Jones have teamed up to win the last two editions of the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, with Jambalaya last year and with A Bit O'Gold in 2004.

On Sunday, Day Phillips and Jones will be looking to become the first trainer and first jockey to pull off the Breeders' three-peat here at Woodbine when Uncle Max contests the 1 1/2-mile turf race, the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Uncle Max, however, might have to step up his game a couple of notches to follow the examples of his successful Day Phillips predecessors.

A Bit O'Gold, a stakes winner at 2, had just missed as the runner-up in the Queen's Plate and won the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales prior to his successful turf debut in the Breeders'.

Jambalaya raced just once as a 2-year-old and was making his stakes debut in the Breeders', but came into the race seeking his third straight turf win and was the 6-5 favorite.

Uncle Max, unraced at 2, was not even kept eligible for the Canadian Triple Crown, and was supplemented to the Breeders' at a cost of $15,000. And, Uncle Max had not been even remotely considered as a Breeders' candidate until he graduated at 1 1/16 miles on turf here July 1.

"After he won on turf, the thought of running him in the Breeders' had crossed my mind," Day Phillips said this week. "But I thought it was asking an awful lot for a green horse."

Uncle Max was making just the third start of his career, and his first beyond six furlongs, when he won his maiden over Ontario-sired opposition.

"We had him in at the track last year," said Day Phillips. "He always breezed very well and showed a fair amount of speed. He just kept getting one sort of setback after another, so we turned him out in the fall."

Uncle Max wintered with Day Phillips in Florida and returned to Woodbine without fanfare.

"Even getting ready this spring we were going to run him for $32,000," said Day Phillips. "But we had second thoughts. He was working better than any of my other 3-year-olds."

Uncle Max debuted here May 26, finishing a closing third in a six-furlong maiden special that came off the turf.

"He walked out of the gate, and came flying," said Day Phillips. "That gave us hope that he was going to be okay. But when he ran back he was a little closer, and didn't show the same pizzazz."

Uncle Max finished fifth in that second start, again going six furlongs on the main track, but returned three weeks later with his winning effort.

"He was up close early and didn't back down when he was challenged," said Day Phillips. "He ran a brave race. We expected him to be fairly close again in his next race, but he decided not to be."

In that last race, a second-level allowance for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward at one mile on turf here July 21, Uncle Max rallied from last place in a field of nine and was beaten a length as the runner-up.

The winner was Decew Falls, a 4-year-old who last year won the Vice Regent and finished second in the Bunty Lawless, both restricted one-mile turf races.

"After his last race, it seemed worth taking a chance on the Breeders'," said Day Phillips. "He's shown he likes turf, and he likes racing."

And if Uncle Max does come through, it will be a testament to the faith of his groom, Adrian Bynoe.

"He's always loved this horse," said Day Phillips. "He said he was a stakes horse from the first time he saw him as a 2-year-old."

Chance to say bye to A Bit O'Gold

Day Phillips and Jones will be in the walking ring here Sunday from 12 to 1 p.m. with A Bit O'Gold, who went on to be voted Canada's champion 3-year-old in 2004 and Horse of the Year, champion older horse, and champion turf horse last year.

A Bit O'Gold will be making his farewell appearance after being forced into retirement by injury earlier this season.

The first 500 visitors will receive an autographed memento of A Bit O'Gold's career.

Patrons who make a minimum $2 donation to the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which will have tables set up from 12 to 1 p.m. in the paddock and 1 to 5 p.m. on the second floor, will have their names entered in a drawing. The prize will be a framed and mounted set of the shoes worn by A Bit O'Gold in the Breeders' Stakes.

Royal North draws field of 12

The Royal North, a six-furlong turf race for 3-year-old fillies and mares that offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $150,000, will be the feature on Monday's 10-race holiday program.

The field of 12 includes shippers Society Hostess, from Saratoga; Bright Gold, from Maryland; and Mocha Queen and Pretty Jane, from Kentucky.

Count to Three, seeking her third straight turf win for Sam-Son Farm, trainer Mark Frostad, and jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, heads the local contingent.

Woodbine also will offer simulcast wagering on Monday's Manitoba Derby from Assiniboia Downs. Post time for the Manitoba Derby will be 5:40 p.m. Eastern.

Racing will not resume until Friday, since Wednesday has been canceled to facilitate the Polytrack construction project. Thursday, following the holiday Monday, already was a dark day.

* Sue Brinen, who spent 21 years working in the Woodbine racing office, has taken over as administrative coordinator for the Ontario Racing Commission. Brinen, who is based in the commission's office on the backstretch, replaces Mary Taylor, who retired last week.