07/31/2006 12:00AM

For Vella, a weekend of grief and cheer

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Like a Gem cools off after her 48-1 upset of the Wonder Where Saturday.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It would be an understatement to say the past week has been bittersweet for Woodbine-based trainer Danny Vella.

Last Saturday, the Vella-trained Like a Gem registered a major upset in the $252,800 Wonder Where Stakes. But just two days earlier, Knights Templar, Canada's 2-year-old filly champion under Vella's handling last season, had to be euthanized following a battle with lymphoma, a form of cancer.

Knights Templar, a Kentucky-bred, and Like a Gem, an Ontario-bred, had both come into the 2006 Woodbine meeting with high expectations. Knights Templar raced only once, however, finishing second in the six-furlong Star Shoot on April 30.

Knights Templar, who spent her last days at the Woodlands Farm of Gail Wood, underwent a series of tests before lymphoma was diagnosed.

"I have to commend Gail Wood and her crew," said Vella, who also was a member of the partnership that owned Knights Templar. "They did an amazing job, keeping her happy and comfortable. She didn't suffer a lot."

Knights Templar had stamped herself a cut above her peers here last year with a 13 1/4-length win in the Grade 3 Mazarine, a 1 1/16-mile race. She went on to finish sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont under Gary Stevens.

This year, Knights Templar opened with a sixth-place finish in Gulfstream's Sunshine Millions Oaks before returning in the Star Shoot. Overall, she won 3 of 9 starts and finished second twice for earnings of $329,117.

Like a Gem began her season in promising fashion, with the Woodbine Oaks on June 11 her prime target. Her preparations were compromised this spring, though, when a virus swept through the Woodbine backstretch, and she finished last of 10 as the 4-1 second choice in the Woodbine Oaks.

"She seemed to be all right going into the Oaks, but obviously she wasn't," said Vella.

After getting a breather on the farm, Like a Gem made her turf debut in the 6 1/2-furlong Ontario Damsel here July 29, when she finished six lengths back in sixth place.

"She had a nightmare trip there," said Vella. "It's amazing she ran as well as she did."

Like a Gem, owned and bred by Garland Williamson, recorded her first stakes victory in the Wonder Where. She also has placed in two stakes on the main track.

"She's in tip-top shape right now, and we can run her where we wish to," said Vella.

Possibilities for Like a Gem's next race include the $150,000 Duchess, a 7 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies here Aug. 12, and the $125,000 Ontario Colleen, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies here Sept. 2.

First trip to Canada a successful one

Gouldings Green made short work of his eight opponents in Sunday's Grade 3, $151,600 Chinese Cultural Centre Seagram Cup, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths in his Canadian debut.

Corey Lanerie, who is based at Ellis Park, also made his first appearance in Canada and contributed a flawless ride aboard Gouldings Green, who was the 4-5 favorite.

A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred trained by Tony Reinstedler and owned by Melynk Racing Stable, Gouldings Green made just his 14th career start. Woodbine is the eighth track over which Gouldings Green has raced.

"We've given him plenty of time to grow into himself," said Reinstedler. "He's an honest horse every time you lead him over there."

The Seagram Cup was Reinstedler's second stakes win at Woodbine; he won with Moonshine Hall here in the 2003 Charlie Barley. Moonshine Hall also finished third here that year in the Toronto Cup and sixth in the Atto Mile.

Meanwhile, Melnyk Racing Stable could score another stakes win here next Sunday with Arch Hall, a candidate for the $125,000 Shepperton at 7 1/2 furlongs.

Arch Hall, an Ontario-bred 5-year-old horse trained by Mark Casse, worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 Sunday morning in preparation for the Shepperton.

Arravale might try Del Mar Oaks next

Arravale, who breezed four furlongs in 48.60 seconds here Sunday, could make her next start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Del Mar Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on turf Aug. 19.

A Kentucky-bred 3-year-old filly owned by Bob Costigan and trained here by Mac Benson, Arravale finished third in the Grade 1, $750,000 American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 2.

Arravale was beaten a half-length for second money in the American Oaks, a 1 1/4-mile turf race, after winning the Alywow at 6 1/2 furlongs on grass here three weeks earlier.

* Corey Fraser will sit out the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday cards after withdrawing his appeal of an earlier three-day suspension.