03/28/2003 12:00AM

Vella back from the farm


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - There are those who believe you can't go home again.

But not Toronto-born Danny Vella, who has spent the last five years as owner-breeder Frank Stronach's main man at Stronach's Florida farm Adena Springs South. Vella is returning to Woodbine to train horses for Stronach.

Assistant trainers Greg Broadhurst and Richie Purcell, both of whom were with Vella in Florida, are holding the fort here until the head trainer's arrival.

"Late last fall, around November, Frank asked me if I would be interested," said Vella from Florida. "We really never did sit down and talk about it until probably January.

"We discussed it, and we thought it was a good idea for the outfit, and just went from there."

Vella, 47, had signed on with Stronach at the end of 1991. He was a finalist for honors as the Sovereign Award-winning trainer in 1992 and 1993, won that award each of the following two years, and was a finalist again in 1996.

His best years in Ontario were 1994, when he saddled 22 stakes winners, including Queen's Plate winner Basqueian and Canadian champions Honky Tonk Tune and King Ruckus, and 1995 when he sent out 24 stakes winners and Basqueian was voted top older male.

But since 1996 Vella's only appearance here as a trainer of record was in the summer of 1998, when he had temporarily relocated from Florida to train a string for Stronach at Delaware Park. He shipped up Platino, Star on Fire, and Yodelman - who ended up also-rans in the Queen's Plate.

Now Vella will be back to train 20 horses here, as one of three Stronach trainers, along with Malcolm Pierce and Reade Baker.

Pierce, with 12 horses, and Baker, with eight, will bring the Stronach Stable to Woodbine's maximum allowable ontrack total of 40 horses and three trainers. Both Pierce and Baker were with the stable here last year, along with Roger Attfield, last year's Sovereign Award-winning trainer, who is no longer with the stable.

Meanwhile, there are many horses in waiting at Adena Springs North in nearby Aurora, where Sean Smullen is the farm trainer.

Vella has had considerable input in assigning the Stronach horses to various trainers across North America. Stars who spent time under his guidance in Florida include Awesome Again, Macho Uno, Milwaukee Brew, Perfect Sting, Red Bullet, and Touch Gold.

And although Mike Rogers, Stronach Stable's business manager of racing operations, has become increasingly more involved in that role, Vella still had a say in which runners went to which trainers at Woodbine.

"We didn't take any off of Malcolm or Reade," said Vella. "I tried to divvy them up as fair as possible, with Malcolm, Reade, and myself."

Vella's horses here will include potential stakes performers such as Mark One, Winning Chance, Touch of Ginger, El Soprano, and Phantom Light, all of whom were trained here last year by Attfield.

While he is looking forward to being back at the track, Vella does not plan to sever his Florida farm ties.

"My intentions are to do the season, or most of it, in Canada and then return here to do the winter training for the bulk of the horses," he said.

Kiss a Native rejoins Bell's barn

Kiss a Native, Canada's champion 3-year-old male of 2000, has returned to Woodbine for a second go-round with trainer David Bell.

A 6-year-old owned by his breeder, John Franks, Kiss a Native was based here with Bell for the 2000 racing season and most of his next campaign, with his last local appearance a third-place finish in the 2001 Autumn Handicap.

Kiss a Native returned to Calder and his original trainer, Bill White, that December and has not run since March 3, 2002, when he finished sixth in the New Orleans Handicap.

"He looks great," said Bell, who welcomed back Kiss a Native last week. "He's been at a training center in Louisiana."

Kiss a Native had his first Woodbine breeze of the season on Friday, going four furlongs in 51 seconds on the main track.

"He's pretty fit, actually" said Bell. "He doesn't look that far away from a race."

Cheap Talk works fast for Sunday

Cheap Talk, a Sovereign Award sprinter finalist last year, drilled five furlongs in 59.60 seconds on the training track Friday and is slated to make his seasonal debut in next Sunday's $125,000 Jacques Cartier, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up.

"He's doing good," said Bob Tiller, who trains Cheap Talk, a 4-year-old gelding whom he owns in partnership with his assistant trainer, Tom Lottridge. "He's had foot problems all his career, but he seems fine now."