11/04/2005 12:00AM

Unification bows out of Coronation Futurity

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Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Unification, winning last month's Grey Stakes, skipped the Coronation Futurity to avoid potential controversy.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Unification, winner of the Grade 3 Grey Stakes here Oct. 10, arrived at Woodbine on Wednesday for Sunday's $250,000 Coronation Futurity.

The Coronation, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds, was to have been Unification's third start in Canada, making him eligible for a Sovereign Award.

But on Friday morning, Unification was on his way back to his Saratoga base, trainer Eoin Harty's Coronation plans in tatters.

While Unification was free to enter the Coronation, his owner, Darley Stable, decided against running.

"Basically, we don't want to participate in something that's going to create a controversy," said Jimmy Bell, president of Darley Stable's division in the United States.

Unification's problems began when he was dropped from the list of Coronation eligibles after a $300 payment due Aug. 1 apparently was missed.

After studying evidence presented by Unification's connections, Woodbine management concluded that the colt's name had been omitted as the result of a procedural error.

A revised list of Coronation eligibles, including Unification, was issued on Oct. 21, but the matter was far from over.

"We had spoken with management at the track and tried to show what had transpired, and they were comfortable with it," Bell said. "Obviously, somebody wasn't comfortable with it."

Ed Hall, director of Thoroughbred racing for the Ontario Racing Commission, confirmed that the ORC launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Unification's eligibility.

"The ORC received a complaint from one of the participants," said Hall. "I got as much information as I could, and felt I should get our investigators involved to see what we could find out. I think it was inconclusive."

The ORC did not have time to complete a full investigation in the brief time leading up to the Coronation, Hall added, which left open the possibility of a post-Coronation protest if Unification had run.

"I just think it's unfortunate the ORC couldn't deal with it in a more expeditious matter," said Chris Evans, Woodbine's vice president of Thoroughbred racing, who had led management's internal investigation.

Bell also used the term "unfortunate" in his final analysis of Unification's situation.

"I think it's unfortunate for all parties - for ourselves, for the racing fans, for the racetrack, and for racing in Canada," he said. "I think he's a nice colt; he's a nice horse to showcase.

"But, we're always going to do the right thing," Bell continued. "This operation is headed by a man, Sheikh Mohammed, who is a sportsman in the true sense of the word."

Two races, neither fills for Passero

The weekend did not start off well for trainer Frank Passero, either.

Passero had entered both Foxy Money and Trail Fox in Saturday's Sunny's Halo, a 6 1/2-furlong overnight stakes for Canadian-foaled 2-year-olds. When it became apparent that the Sunny's Halo would not fill, Passero switched the two horses to the one mile and 70-yard prep for the Display Stakes, which also failed to attract enough entrants.

But while Foxy Money and Trail Fox will be staying in the barn this weekend, Passero will be represented in the Coronation, with Ashlee's Cat, running for owner-breeder Colebrook Farm.

"He will be going in excellent shape," said Passero, who sent out Ashlee's Cat to a fifth-place finish behind stablemate Bright N Golden in the 6 1/2-furlong Silver Deputy in his last start on Sept. 5.

"He missed a little bit of time after that," said Passero, who sent out Ashlee's Cat to works of one mile on Oct. 22 and six furlongs on Oct. 29.

"Nothing's been proven, but I think he's a two-turn horse."

Bright N Golden also had been pointing for the Coronation, but is not among the entrants.

"He just wasn't quite right," said Passero.

Turf races switched to main track

Sunday was scheduled to have been the last day of turf racing at the meeting, with the one-mile Labeeb, one of three grass races on the card, being the supporting feature.

That all changed late Friday afternoon when Woodbine management, after consultation with the jockeys, announced there would be no more turf racing this season. The dormant and unstable nature of the course was cited as the reason for cutting short the turf season.

The Labeeb now will be run over a mile and 70 yards on the main track and presents an even better opportunity for Sky Diamond to top off a stellar campaign.

A 5-year-old gelding, Sky Diamond was claimed for $35,000 in July of 2004 and has won seven of his 14 subsequent starts and more than $350,000 for owner Roger Patten and trainer Sid Attard.

Four of those successes and more than $200,000 resulted from seven appearances this year but while Sky Diamond has defeated stakes-caliber opposition in allowance races he has come up short in his stakes appearances.

Sky Diamond had not started on turf since winning over one mile in his seasonal bow back on May 23.

River Boat's adieu

River Boat didn't quite go out a winner, but his second-place finish in a $40,000 claiming race here Thursday marked an honorable conclusion to a lengthy career.

A 12-year-old gelding owned, trained, and bred by Frank Huarte, River Boat was making his 102nd start and retires with a record of 12 wins, 19 seconds, 11 thirds, and a bankroll of $721,874.

"I'm so proud of this horse," said Huarte. "We will find a nice home for him; he deserves it. He's been like a pet."

River Boat had been lightly campaigned in recent seasons, mainly because of a lack of suitable opportunities going long on turf, which has been his specialty.

"He's still a very, very sound horse," said Christopher Huarte, son and assistant to River Boat's trainer. "We'd planned all along that this was going to be his last race."

Neither Huarte hesitates when asked his fondest memory of River Boat's career.

"The Niagara," they say.

River Boat won the Grade 2, $300,000 Niagara, a 1 1/2-mile turf race, at age 7.