04/22/2009 11:00PM

Wando draws strong group

Benoit & Associates
Shafted, trained by Mark Casse, won a first-level allowance and competed against the best 3-year-olds in California this winter at Santa Anita.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Bear's Rocket and Shafted, both of whom ran well when facing some Kentucky Derby-bound opponents in the United States this winter, will cross swords here in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Wando.

The $100,000 Wando, an open overnight stakes for 3-year-olds, was inaugurated last year with a dual purpose. As a prep for the open Marine, a Grade 3 race at 1 1/16 miles, the Wando would have particular appeal for winter-raced horses. Also, the Wando would serve as an additional option on the road to the Queen's Plate for Canadian-breds who wanted to get an early crack at two turns here.

This year's edition appears to have succeeded on both counts as Bear's Rocket and Shafted are joined by fellow winter-raced Kentucky-breds Awesome Rhythm, Island Drums, and Fierce Thunder. Ontario-foaled Rapid Release is making his local bow with a long-term eye toward the Queen's Plate.

Bear's Rocket, winner of a first-level allowance at one mile and 70 yards here last fall, started twice in Florida, finishing a bang-up second in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at 1 1/8 miles and sixth in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles.

"He ran super the first time," trainer Reade Baker said. "I didn't want to cut him back to a mile for the next stakes at Gulfstream [the Fountain of Youth], so I went to Tampa instead."

Bear's Rocket was prominent early in the Tampa Bay Derby before weakening to be beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Musket Man, who went on to win the Illinois Derby and cement his Kentucky Derby status. General Quarters, the fifth-place finisher at Tampa, won the Grade 1 Blue Grass in his next start and also is scheduled to run in the Derby.

"I think my horse got very tired on that surface; I think you really need a race there," Baker said. "It took him a while to bounce out of it."

Bear's Rocket has worked well since returning to Woodbine, however, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 here Sunday.

"He worked great the other day, and we expect him to run great," Baker said.

Shafted, winner of a B-level maiden race at a mile and 70 yards in his debut here last October, raced three times at Santa Anita.

After winning a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles, Shafted was unplaced in both the Gradeo2 Robert B. Lewis and the Grade 2 San Felipe at the same distance.

"He went and ran a huge race first time out," trainer Mark Casse said. "He tied up a little bit after the Lewis; we didn't know why. He didn't have a lot of excuses in the San Felipe, but there wasn't a lot of pace and they were tough horses."

Pioneerof the Nile, winner of both the Lewis and San Felipe, and San Felipe two-three finishers Papa Clem and I Want Revenge all came back to win major stakes and are scheduled to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Shafted, meanwhile, stopped over at Keeneland prior to returning to Woodbine and has breezed twice with blinkers on under rider Patrick Husbands.

"Patrick said his last work was tremendous," Casse said, referring to Shafted's five-furlong move in 1:00.20 last Saturday. "We're pretty optimistic he's going to run a big race."

Black aiming for another Queen's Plate

Trainer Ian Black, who sent out Mike Fox to win the Queen's Plate in 2007, has a potential candidate for this year's running in Southdale, a homebred colt owned by Rod Ferguson.

Southdale is facing a couple of significant hurdles in that he never started at 2 and returned to Black last Wednesday with just a third-place finish in a 6 1/2-furlong Keeneland race to his credit.

On the plus side of the ledger, Southdale spent the winter with trainer Roger Attfield at Payson Park, performed very encouragingly in that April 20 debut, and drilled a sharp four furlongs in 47.60 seconds Tuesday.

"We stopped on him once last year, when he bucked shins, and he was close to running in October when he bucked again," Black said. "But the horse showed us enough that if he was going to have any chance to be a Plate horse, he'd have to go down to Florida. So, we gave the horse to the best man we've got at getting one ready for the Plate.

"The horse came back in great shape, and he worked great the other day."

Attfield, who sent out Not Bourbon for a record-tying eighth Queen's Plate victory last June, was Kinghaven Farm's trainer during the years when Black managed the farm.

Southdale is nominated to the Queenston, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds here May 2, but there is a seven-furlong maiden race in the condition book the following day.

Wollemi Pine returns in Jacques Cartier

In the meantime, Black will be sending out Wollemi Pine in Saturday's $150,000 Jacques Cartier, the six-furlong feature for 4-year-olds and up.

Wollemi Pine, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Kinghaven and partners, will be making his first start since finishing a solid second in an open one-mile turf allowance here Sept. 28.

"He probably needs to go further, but I need somewhere to run him," said Black, who sent out Wollemi Pine to work five furlongs in 1:00.60 here Sunday. "He's ready to run."

Although Wollemi Pine established a main-track record of 1:40:13 for a mile and 70 yards here last May, Black suspects that the horse's true forte is a firm turf course. Wollemi Pine finished second under such circumstances in the Grade 2 Play the King at seven furlongs and Grade 3 Highlander at six furlongs.

"A lot of where he runs this year will depend on what he does Saturday," Black said. "If he runs okay, we'll go to the Vigil, at seven furlongs. If he doesn't, we'll go back to turf racing."

The Grade 3, $150,000 Vigil, for 4-year-olds and up, will be run May 18.

* Jim Mazur will conduct a one-hour handicapping seminar at 11 a.m. Saturday on the third floor of the grandstand. Attendees will receive a free copy of Mazur's "Derby Zone."