05/30/2001 11:00PM

Winning isn't everything in Plate Trial

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It's not that any of the six Canadian-bred 3-year-olds in Saturday's Plate Trial would pass up a chance at the $97,650 winner's share for the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine feature.

But there's also the not-so-small matter of the $1 million Queen's Plate, with its $600,000 first prize and enormous prestige, which will be over 1 1/4 miles here June 24.

Since the Plate Trial was first run at the current distance, in 1980, horses such as Archers Bay, Basqueian, Fiddle Dancer Boy, Key to the Moon, Peteski, and Woodcarver all have used second-place finishes in the race as their springboards to greater glory in the Queen's Plate. Golden Choice finished third in the Trial and Regal Discovery fourth before staging their Plate heroics.

On the other hand, Alydeed, Bompago, Driving Home, Izvestia, and With Approval all won both the Trial and the Plate during the same time frame, so victory in the Trial is not exactly undesirable.

Steve Owens, who will send out the Empress Stable entry of Highland Legacy and Legal Heir this Saturday, is one trainer who is more interested in the Trial as a measuring stick than an end in itself.

"I'm just hoping Highland Legacy comes with a good run this time," said Owens. "He had those ulcers; now they're healed up. We scoped him last week, and he's 100 percent."

Highland Legacy, named Canada's champion 2-year-old after closing out his campaign with a stakes triple capped by the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, has seen action just once this season, finishing a closing but distant third in the seven-furlong Queenston here on May 5.

"Whether or not he gets a mile and an eighth this time, it will lead him toward the mile and a quarter of the Plate," said Owens.

"They've all got to carry weight. He's carried 124 pounds, which is more than any of the others, and he's undefeated at the distance. But Win City is really on top of his game."

Legal Heir was impressive when he tried two turns for the first time here May 5, leading throughout a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles.

"I think Legal Heir is going to run a strong race," said Owens. "I'm looking for a front-running style, but he's not in there to be a rabbit. That's the way he likes to run."

More Plate possibles go in Sunday's fifth

Another Plate trial of sorts will take place in Sunday's fifth race, a 1 1/16-mile maiden race for 3- and 4-year-olds.

The field of 14 includes Go Figure, Jimmy's Prize, Karluk, Lucky Devil, Lucky Scarab and Needham's Point, all of whom remain eligible to the Queen's Plate. All but Needham's Point were also nominated to the Plate Trial.

Lucky Scarab is owned by Sam-Son Farm, who won last year's Queen's Plate with maiden Scatter the Gold. Lucky Scarab, who showed promise while racing in New Orleans and Kentucky earlier this year, was a closing second at 1 1/16 miles in his local bow for trainer Mark Frostad.

Casino Prince romps despite trouble

Casino Prince overcame traffic problems to post a decisive victory in Wednesday's Steady Growth Stakes, a $110,200 race for older Ontario-sired runners.

Casino Prince raced five lengths off his front-running entrymate Can You Feel It early in the 1 1/16-mile race. He entered contention on the far turn, where he had to wait for running room, and found a path along the rail at the three-sixteenths pole.

Na Somsanith sent Casino Prince up the fence nearing the eighth pole and got him home on top by 7 1/2 lengths over a closing Prince of Style. Speed River was another head back in third, while favored Geraint ended up fourth in the 10-horse field. The final time was 1:44.25.

Casino Prince ($15.10) earned $66,120 in his first stakes tally for owner John Hillier and trainer John Cardella.

Heliotrope heads Nassau

Sunday's feature will be the $196,175 Nassau, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

Heliotrope, owned by Dick and Jo Ellen Shaw and trained by David Bell, will be seeking her second straight score in the Nassau and won the one-mile turf prep in her seasonal bow. Her seven opponents include invaders Zeitling, trained by Christophe Clement, and Great Fever, trained by Wayne Catalano.

Burningham suspended

Apprentice jockey Jeff Burningham has been suspended three racing days, Thursday through Saturday, for careless riding in the fourth race here last Saturday.

The stewards ruled that Burningham allowed his mount, Polo Prince, to drop in and clip the heels of Nightly Appeal, causing his mount to stumble in the vicinity of the three-eighths pole.

Nightly Appeal went on the win the race while Polo Prince finished eighth.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink