11/18/2003 12:00AM

Winter Garden blossomed throughout 2003


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Winter Garden put the icing on a sensational 3-year-old campaign here on Sunday by winning the Grade 3 Bessarabian, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares.

A Kentucky-bred owned by Frank DiGiulio and trained by Bob Tiller, Winter Garden was winning her third stakes and sixth race from nine starts this year. She also finished second once and third twice, and concludes her campaign with earnings of $470,826.

But perhaps the most noteworthy fact on Winter Garden's record is that she has won four of her five meetings with older fillies and mares - the lone defeat a second-place finish to subsequent Grade 1 winner Harmony Lodge.

"She's a lovely filly," said Tiller. "She runs hard every time."

Winter Garden began the year with a win in the Star Shoot, an open six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies. But with the divisional focus geared toward Canadian-breds and the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks, her options were limited.

"I was worried about where we were going to run her," said Tiller. "I didn't think she'd go long."

That situation led Tiller to send out Winter Garden against older rivals in her second start, a six-furlong optional claiming race, which she won impressively.

Winter Garden then tried two turns for the first and only time, running third in the Grade 1 Selene, a 1 1/16-mile stakes won by the subsequent Woodbine Oaks winner, Too Late Now.

While Winter Garden might be the most talented member of her division to have raced in Canada this year, her chances of winning the 3-year-old filly title are difficult to gauge.

Too Late Now will attract attention, even though she wound up her campaign on a down note. And a pair of talented out-of-towners, British Columbia based Dancewithavixen and Alberta based Raylene, will have their share of supporters.

America America: a Sovereign?

It's far-fetched to envision a horse running at 13 different racetracks, in four different countries, in a single year.

And if the horse is a 2-year-old filly, the notion becomes downright preposterous.

Yet, that's exactly the case with America America, who began her career with her owner and trainer Frank Mourier at Gulfstream this March and has gone on to race at Ascot, Newmarket, Chester, Newbury, Sandown, and Salisbury in England; at Hamburg in Germany; at Woodbine; and then at Keeneland, Belmont, Delta Downs, and Sam Houston in the U.S.

What makes America America of particular interest here is that the filly stayed put long enough to make three consecutive appearances at Woodbine and thus meets the prerequisite of three starts in this country in the current season, qualifying her for consideration for a Sovereign Award.

While America America did not win here she acquitted herself well enough while third in the Grade 3 Natalma, fourth when facing males in the Grade 2 Summer, and second in the Grade 2 Mazarine.

And after becoming a stakes winner in Saturday night's $150,000 Sam Houston Texan Juvenile, where she defeated five male rivals while making her 16th start of the year, America America should command some respect in the Sovereign Award balloting.

"Her racing career really has been above expectations," said Mourier, who was uncertain of his next move with America America after the Sam Houston victory.

"She probably would deserve a break, but we tried to [give her one] in August, and she was doing very well so we just raced her a little more.

"Actually, she's amazing; she really enjoys racing. If she gives any indication she needs a little bit of time, we'll give it to her. This filly has been very, very good for us."

The Houston Texan Juvenile was the third victory of America America's career. She has run second six times and third three times, and has earned $298,640.