05/13/2003 11:00PM

Western forces begin march to the Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The British Columbia invasion is officially under way.

Illusive Force, Lord Shogun, and Regal Rebel were flown from Vancouver on Tuesday night and checked in to Woodbine at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Awaiting the trio was Lani VanOverschot, wife of and assistant to Rob VanOverschot, who trains both Illusive Force and Lord Shogun. Exercise rider Sam Shirley also made the trip east.

Illusive Force's target is the $1 million Queen's Plate, and the gelding will be looking to take his first major step in that direction in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes.

All being well, Illusive Force would proceed to the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial here May 31, then to the 1 1/4-mile Plate on June 22.

Owned and bred in British Columbia by Wally and Terry Leong's Canyon Farm, Illusive Force had been tabbed as a Plate prospect after winding up his juvenile campaign with an impressive win in Hastings Park's 1 1/16-mile Ascot Graduation.

Illusive Force made his first start of 2003 at Hastings just last Saturday, winning the 6 1/2-furlong City of Vancouver by a half-length under Dave Wilson, who has been aboard for each of the gelding's five career starts and will be here for the Marine.

The company, of course, will be different, with local talent such as Wando, Quiet Dare, and Arco's Gold among Illusive Force's five opponents.

Lani VanOverschot, however, is undaunted.

"I'm very proud of my boy," she said. "If he comes out of the plane trip okay, I think he'll do fine.

"He loves to run."

Lord Shogun begins year in turf allowance

Lord Shogun, a 4-year-old gelding by Maudlin who also is owned and was bred by Canyon Farm, will be making his first start of the year here Friday in a seven-furlong turf allowance that is a prep for the $150,000 Connaught Cup.

The Connaught Cup, a Grade 3 race over 1 1/16 miles on turf, will be run here a week from Saturday.

"We wanted to try him on turf," said Lani VanOverschot. "Maudlins, apparently, can run really well on the grass."

Lord Shogun won his maiden in his last of four starts as a 2-year-old, over 6 1/2 furlongs at Hastings Park. After launching his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in an allowance race at Hastings, Lord Shogun rolled through western Canada with victories in Stampede Park's Alberta Derby, Northlands Park's Ky Alta, and the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs.

Although sidelined by injury after the Manitoba Derby, Lord Shogun earned a Sovereign Award nomination in the 3-year-old colt or gelding category on the basis of his 4-for-4 record.

Wilson, who also is named on Lord Shogun, was Canada's champion apprentice rider in both 1994 and 1995.

After beginning his career in Vancouver, Wilson finished up his 1994 campaign here but then returned to British Columbia and was based there until moving his tack to Calgary's Stampede Park, where he currently is the leading rider.

Regal Rebel, trained by Rick Kamps, tagged along with the VanOverschot duo.

A 4-year-old owned by Ridgedale Holdings Ltd., Regal Rebel finished second in both the City of Vancouver and Alberta Derby last year, but remains eligible for his first allowance condition. Regal Rebel has not raced since last June 29.

Pierce pacing Rock Again's campaign

Rock Again, who represents Stronach Stable's best shot at the Queen's Plate, is bypassing the Marine and is slated to make his next start in the Plate Trial.

Trained by Malcolm Pierce, Rock Again has started three times this year and has been victorious in both his outings at 1 1/16 miles, winning his maiden at Gulfstream March 1 and a first-level allowance here April 26.

"I want to have a fresh horse going into the Plate," said Pierce. "Doing an allowance race, the Marine, the Plate Trial, and the Plate would be too many races in too short a period of time for my liking.

"I think we're better off giving him the time. He has two 1 1/16-mile races under his belt already."

Strizzi to race on dirt again

Pierce and Stronach Stable still will be represented in the Marine, with Strizzi set to come off the bench.

Strizzi, who won his maiden over 1 1/16 miles here last fall, ran well in three grass starts in the United States this year but did poorly in an off-the-turf allowance over 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream March 12.

"I'm going to give him one last crack on the dirt here," said Pierce. "He's worked real well on dirt and even if he didn't run any good at Gulfstream, it's a different surface here and different horses.

"Just in case he ran a huge race, it would open up our options. He'd maybe even give us two for the Plate."

Seminar for potential owners

The Jockey Club of Canada will host a free seminar for prospective Thoroughbred racehorse owners at 9:30 a.m. Monday in the second-floor International Room at Woodbine.

The seminar, the first in a series, will be followed by an afternoon of racing featuring the Grade 1 Selene Stakes.

Industry professionals will address topics such as choosing a trainer, partnership agreements and taxation. For additional information and tickets contact Bridget Bimm at (416) 675-7756 or by e-mail at jockeyclub@bellnet.ca.