11/19/2003 12:00AM

Viable alternatives to Wando


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - In a recent debate on a Toronto sports radio show, golfer Mike Weir, who won the Masters, was the general consensus choice to win the Lou Marsh Award as the 2003 Canadian Athlete of the Year over Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Eric Gagne, even though the Los Angeles Dodgers' reliever would be a more deserving winner because he was deemed to be the best at what he does.

There is a similar situation involving this year's Sovereign Awards, which will crown the champions of Canadian Thoroughbred racing Dec. 6. Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando is a virtual shoo-in to take Canadian Horse of the Year honors over Grade 1 winner Perfect Soul, even though Perfect Soul knocked heads with some of the best turf runners in the world, and would arguably be a more worthy winner.

The only time they met, in the Grade 1 Atto Mile, Wando, who dusted Canadian-bred opposition in the Triple Crown, finished just behind Perfect Soul in fourth after a dream trip. Perfect Soul went on to beat Atto winner Touch of the Blues in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, while Wando capped his campaign by finishing a flat third in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby, which was won by a horse who then lost in the Oklahoma Derby.

A case for Canadian Horse of the Year can also be made for Soaring Free, who finished a close second in the Atto. Soaring Free won two of his three meetings with Perfect Soul, but Perfect Soul was the victim of a bad ride in the Atto, and had no shot breaking from post 13 in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Soaring Free, who was fifth in the BC Mile, is a contender in several other categories, but it is not likely he will beat out Perfect Soul for champion turf horse.

Wando's connections, owner-breeder Gustav Schickedanz and trainer Mike Keogh, are the front-runners in their respective categories. Keogh, who also trains multiple stakes winner Mobil for Schickedanz, faces a serious challenge from Woodbine's leading trainer, Bob Tiller. Tiller is having a career year, during which he has captured 16 stakes and amassed earnings in excess of $3.8 million.

Wando's rider, Patrick Husbands, has won the jockey Sovereign each of the last four years, but there is a strong chance he will be dethroned by Woodbine's leading rider, Todd Kabel. Kabel has won 29 stakes this year, and he became the first jockey in the country to register $10 million in earnings in a single season. The top apprentice rider should be Julia Brimo.

Wando, of course, will be named champion 3-year-old, but the 3-year-old filly category has four serious contenders, including two from western Canada, Dancewithavixen and Raylene. The two Ontario fillies with a big shot at the award are Woodbine Oaks winner Too Late Now and crack sprinter Winter Garden, whose late-season surge could put her over the top.

Champion 2-year-old filly is another contentious category. My Vintage Port will likely get the nod because of her three stakes scores, but she never won an open stakes and her Beyer Figures are weak. America America, who ran three strong races in September at Woodbine, could be the sleeper. She defeated males in the open $150,000 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile last Saturday, and hit the board in 12 of 16 starts in four different countries.

The champion 2-year-old colt or gelding figures to be unbeaten Judiths Wild Rush, who earned a 105 Beyer Figure, tied for the highest by a juvenile in North America this year, when he crushed the other contenders in the 2-year-old division with a 10-length victory in last Saturday's Display Stakes.

One for Rose will likely be voted champion older filly or mare on the strength of her three triple-digit Beyers, the latest of which was earned in her blowout win in Grade 3 Maple Leaf Stakes. Brass in Pocket defeated One for Rose in one of her four stakes scores, in the seven-furlong Kamar, but One for Rose was better at her specialty - route racing.

Champion sprinter is a toss-up between Soaring Free and Forever Grand. Soaring Free ran many sensational races on dirt and turf, while Forever Grand won four stakes, and could prevail in the photo.

Champion older male is a tough call. Aside from Soaring Free and Forever Grand, the possibilities include reigning Horse of the Year Wake at Noon, No Comprende, and Phantom Light. Give the edge to Phantom Light, because of his two Grade 3 stakes victories.

Inish Glora beat Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes winner Volga when she took the Grade 2 Canadian Handicap, an effort which should ensure her the award for older filly or mare turf champion.

Last year's champion turf female, Chopinina, is slated to run in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood, but that Nov. 30 race isn't eligible for consideration because it comes after the Nov. 21 voting deadline. Maybe one day the awards will encompass the entire year, which would be fairer to all involved.