04/03/2003 1:00AM

Wild Whiskey has good shot at Cartier

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Around these parts, there aren't many quicker on the draw than Wild Whiskey.

But he will have to be at his straight-shooting best at Woodbine Sunday when he makes his season debut against some high-caliber sprint opposition in the Jacques Cartier Stakes.

"He had a very good winter," said trainer John Ross, who was with Wild Whiskey at Classic Mile Farm in Ocala, Fla. "It was a very good track there this year. He's got lots of mileage under him."

On Saturday, Wild Whiskey will only have to worry about traveling six furlongs, a distance at which he is 3 for 4.

Owned by Gary Wellwood and Larry Titchner, Wild Whiskey began his career with an impressive victory here Nov. 3, 2001. The following spring, he finished second to Rare Friends, at the time Canada's reigning 2-year-old champion male, in the Achievement, his first start as a 3-year-old.

Wild Whiskey turned on the tables on Rare Friends in their next encounter, winning the Woodstock by 8 3/4 lengths.

But on May 4, he became involved in a suicidal front-end battle with Rare Friends in the seven-furlong Queenston and went to the shelf with a badly bucked shin after finishing a distant eighth.

Wild Whiskey did not see action again until Nov. 7, when he won his first try against older rivals. Ross had planned to run him in the six-furlong Kennedy Road here Nov. 30 but a foot problem scuttled that venture.

"After the last race he ran, he developed a quarter crack," Ross said. "I could have patched it and run him, but I talked with the owners, and they agreed to give him another rest.

"The foot's good now. I'm looking forward to seeing him back in action."

Arco's Gold back in Ross stable

Arco's Gold, one of the leading candidates for this year's $1 million Queen's Plate, checked into the Ross barn here Thursday afternoon after vanning up from Classic Mile.

"He trained and trained and trained down there," Ross said. "He's got lots foundation."

Owned by Alex and Steven DiIorio, Arco's Gold was undefeated in three starts at 2 and thrust himself into the early Plate picture in the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity last Nov. 2.

Making his stakes debut and first start around two turns in the Coronation, Arco's Gold battled to a dead heat with Mobil but was awarded sole possession of first place after the stewards ruled he had been struck by the whip of Todd Kabel, Mobil's rider.

The current plan calls for Arco's Gold to make his seasonal bow in the $150,000 Queenston here May 3.

"I want to start him at seven-eighths, and stretch him out from there," Ross said. "He could have gone six furlongs, but I don't want to drill him.

"I thought last year he got a little too speedy," he added. "He was getting wound up. I want to have him relaxed more, if he's going to go to the Plate."

The Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, will be run June 22.

Barn 1 open for business

The Ross horses were among the first in the retrofitted Barn 1, featuring wider shed rows and new electrical and sprinkler systems.

"There are still some very minor problems to iron out, but the barn is filling up very quickly." said Tom Cosgrove, Woodbine's director of backstretch operations.

The renovation, which began during the off-season, will serve as the prototype for the other original barns here. Work on those structures is scheduled to begin in December, following the end of the meeting.

"We're open to any suggestions as to improvements we might have to make," Cosgrove said.

Jockey Jones going back home

Jockey Jono Jones, a top 10 rider in his two meetings since relocating here from Barbados, is returning home to ride.

Jones, who married recently, will be teaming up with octogenarian Bill Marshall, a top Barbadian trainer with whom he has enjoyed much success in the past.

Jones, 26, rode 57 winners here in 2001 after debuting May 9, good for a tie for eighth in the standings. His first Woodbine mount, Annie's Creek, was a winner.

Last year, he rode 54 winners to finish in a tie for 10th despite missing more than two months of action after damaging a ligament in his left foot during a training mishap.

Highlights of his 2002 campaign included wins in the final two turf stakes of the meeting, aboard Byzantine in the River Memories and Red Sea in the Labeeb.

Jones, who received his apprentice license in 1990 at age 14 and his full license two years later, spent one year riding for trainer Sir Michael Stoute in England, recording one winner from limited opportunities.

Leading rider in Barbados in 2000 and 2001, Jones piloted California invader Thady Quill to victory in the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup this March, his unprecedented fourth consecutive win in the race.

His other three Sandy Lane scores all came with Blast of Storm, conditioned by Marshall, who also deputized as trainer for Thady Quill.

Jones, who missed the opening weekend of this meeting because of illness, rode one winner from six mounts last week. He was named on horses here Friday and Saturday but will be taking off his mounts while preparing for his departure.

He has been represented here by jockey agent Tom Patton, who also books mounts for Barbadian transplant Patrick Husbands, winner of the Sovereign Awards as outstanding rider from 1999 through 2002.