09/11/2003 11:00PM

Wando takes Atto test

Wando breezes Thursday under regular rider Patrick Husbands, preparing for his toughest test yet, Sunday's Grade 1 Atto Mile.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando will try to meet the challenge of Grade 1 competition Sunday at Woodbine in the seventh running of the $1 million Atto Mile.

Two other first-rate turf stakes are on Sunday's 11-race card at Woodbine - the Grade 2 Summer for 2-year-olds, and the Grade 2 Canadian for fillies and mares - but the Atto, with its strong local contingent, is perhaps the most anticipated race of the meeting.

Wando made a mockery of his Canadian-bred opposition in the Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes, but was sternly tested when he switched to the grass for the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Breeders' Stakes. A trio of Sam-Son Farm runners tried to box him in on the far turn of that 1 1/2-mile race, but jockey Patrick Husbands was able to ease Wando back and angle him wide for the run through the stretch, where he exploded to win going away.

Trainer Mike Keogh entertained thoughts of running Wando in the United States, after the Aug. 9 Breeders', but ultimately decided to stay at home for the Atto.

"We're running in this race to get a line on him," said Keogh. "It should give us an idea of whether we should be going into the Breeders' Cup Mile or Classic. I'm sure [owner Gustav Schickedanz] will want me to go to the Breeders' Cup if he runs huge here."

No trainer has saddled more live runners in the history of the Atto than Southern California-based Neil Drysdale, who will sent out the uncoupled duo of Touch of the Blues and Sarafan. Drysdale took the 1998 running with Labeeb, and nearly won the 1999 edition with Hawksley Hill, who was disqualified from first and placed fourth because jockey Pat Day's whip struck another rival in the stretch.

Touch of the Blues was beaten only two lengths when fifth after being checked hard in deep stretch in last year's Atto. He scored an overdue victory in his last start, in the Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar, which is the same prep Riviera used before winning the Atto in 2000. Touch of the Blues closed from off a sizzling pace in the one-mile Wickerr. He was ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who won the Atto aboard Labeeb and rides Touch of the Blues Sunday.

With nearly $2.3 million in earnings, Sarafan is the most accomplished runner in the field. He finished in the top four in numerous Grade 1 races during his busy 2002 campaign, but has run only twice this year. He defeated only two opponents on Aug. 22 when he won a minor stakes at Del Mar.

"It was a nice little prep race, and he did it very well," Drysdale said.

Southern California-based runners have finished first in the Atto three times.

Soaring Free, Canada's top sprinter, has won all five of his starts since being gelded last winter. Trained by Mark Frostad for Sam-Son, Soaring Free has yet to run beyond seven furlongs this year.

"We've always thought highly of him, and ever since he was gelded, he's become a different horse," said owner Tammy Samuel-Balaz. "Physically, he's a very powerful horse, and I don't think the extra furlong will make much of a difference to him."

Perfect Soul, trained by Roger Attfield, won the nine-furlong King Edward BC Handicap over this course in June, and was recently a close fifth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Attfield believes that the turnback in distance from a 1 1/4 miles last time will suit Perfect Soul. "I've always felt that a mile is probably his best distance," said Attfield. "There'll be plenty of pace in there, and it should work out well for him."

Reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Wake at Noon was well beaten in both of his turf outings. Trainer Abraham Katryan predicted a big speed try from Wake at Noon. "I would like him to be gunned to the lead," he said.

Wake at Noon will likely be tracked by Soaring Free and last year's Canadian champion turf female, Chopinina, who was second in the 2002 Atto.

Numerous Times is winless in six starts since capturing the 2001 Atto by a nose over Affirmed Success. He was recently fifth behind Soaring Free in the Grade 3 Play the King Handicap.

Tap the Admiral and Freefourinternet ran one-two in the Firecracker BC Handicap July 5 at Churchill, a prep used by Good Journey before he won last year's Atto.

The field

Atto Mile

Purse: $1 million; 1 mile (turf); Grade 1

1SarafanC. Nakatani1213-1
2FreefourinternetR. Albarado11730-1
3Touch of the BluesK. Desormeaux1197-2
4Perfect SoulJ. Santos1216-1
5WandoP. Husbands1145-2
6Numerous TimesG. Stevens11730-1
7Moonshine HallP. Day11250-1
8ChopininaR. Dos Ramos11620-1
9Wake at NoonE. Ramsammy11930-1
10Tap the AdmiralM. Luzzi12120-1
11Soaring FreeT. Kabel1215-1

* Television: Rogers Sportsnet 4:30-5:30 p.m. EDT

* Odds by Ron Gierkink