08/06/2003 11:00PM

Wando special from start

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From the moment he first frolicked in a paddock at Gus Schickedanz's Schonberg Farm just north of Toronto, Ontario, Wando was viewed as something special.

A Schickedanz homebred 3-year-old by Langfuhr out of Kathie's Colleen, Wando is just one win away, Saturday's Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, from becoming the first Canadian Triple Crown winner since Peteski in 1993.

There have been only six winners of the series since its inception in 1959.

When he was only a few months old, Wando caught the eye of a visitor to the farm, the artist Richard Stone Reeves.

According to Lauri Kenny, Schickedanz's longtime farm manager, Reeves was at the farm to photograph Sharpening Up, a Sovereign Award-winning broodmare. But when Reeves saw Wando and his dam among all the other mares and foals "he said that was the best looking foal he had ever seen," Kenny said. "It took us by surprise; he looks at a lot of horses."

Wando was foaled on Feb. 23, 2000, at 7 p.m. and was up and nursing within two hours.

Kenny's notes from that evening describe the stout chestnut as a "very big foal" and that the foaling was routine.

As Wando matured, it was clear to Kenny that Wando possessed characteristics of both his sire and dam.

"He has the color of his dam but he has the size and carries himself like Langfuhr," Kenny said. "He's also very easy-going, like Langfuhr."

Kenny said one of the more noticeable qualities about Wando as a young colt, other than his striking appearance, was his interest in people.

"Kathie's Colleen's foals will live in your pocket," he said. "They are always the first one up to the fence to visit with you."

Raised and then broken to a saddle and bridle at Schonberg, Wando was sent to trainer Mike Keogh in South Carolina soon after Christmas 2001.

"He was definitely a standout from the first time I saw him," Keogh said. "He was such a good-looking horse. He had a very strong presence about him."

Keogh, who was also impressed with another Langfuhr colt, the multiple stakes winner Mobil, said Wando's early years of training went smoothly.

"He's been great to train all along and he showed promise early in his workouts," Keogh said. "He's never had shin problems either. He got a little funny at the gate just before his maiden race but we schooled him a few times and he's been good ever since."

Keogh was reminded this week of his comment to veterinarian Greg DeGannes several months before the colt made his racing debut last July.

"I pulled up on the pony one day and said to [DeGannes] this is a running son-of-a-gun," he said. "He mentioned it to me the other day - he said he'd never forget it because it was such a long time before [Wando] ever ran."

The Schickedanz team fully expected Wando to win his first career start and they were not disappointed.

"We loved him," Keogh said. "Jim McAleney was getting on him and he was really high on him."

Wando won by two lengths and paid a generous $10.40 to win.

Now, only a testing 1 1/2-mile jaunt around one circuit of the undulating E.P. Taylor turf course stands between Wando and the Triple Crown.

Wando's sire, Langfuhr, was a superior miler and was named Canada's champion sprinter as a 4-year-old in 1996. He won the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile as well as the Carter Handicap and Vosburgh Stakes at seven furlongs during his 23-race career. He is the sire of multiple Grade 1 winner Imperial Gesture and seven black-type winners, five this year, from three crops. The average winning distance of his foals is seven furlongs.

While Langfuhr was winless in five grass starts, he is becoming known as an above-average turf sire.

Wando's dam, Kathie's Colleen, is by Woodman, a son of Mr. Prospector. Kathie's Colleen won 4 of 11 races, including the nine-furlong Monmouth Oaks. She produced two foals before Wando, including the winner Oliva.

While Wando's pedigree is not that of a classic distance horse, it does contain a good amount of stamina.

Langfuhr is inbred 3 x 3 to Nearctic, the sire of Northern Dancer, who is the sire of many classic winners. Northern Dancer is the sire of Langfuhr's sire, Danzig.

Many recent winners of the Breeders' have been loaded with the influential blood of Northern Dancer. Wando and last year's Breeders' winner, Portcullis, a son of Smart Strike-Dancer's Gate, boast the same pedigree cross of Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer.

If Wando can stretch his brilliant speed 1 1/2 miles on Saturday, he will confirm what his handlers have believed since day one - that he is a superior individual.