10/23/2003 12:00AM

Winter Garden looking Fashion-able


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Winter Garden probably will not be crowned Canadian champion 3-year-old filly at year's end, but it's not because she wouldn't be a deserving winner of that honor. The 3-year-old filly division, which is particularly strong this year, is headed by Grade 1 Selene Stakes winner Too Late Now and two accomplished runners from Western Canada, Raylene and Dancewithavixen.

Winter Garden, who has done most of her damage as a sprinter, will be favored against six older fillies and mares in Saturday's $136,125 Ontario Fashion Handicap, a six-furlong dash at Woodbine.

Winter Garden has won four of seven starts at the meeting, while earning nearly $300,000 for owner Frank DiGiulio Jr. She has defeated older opposition twice, and was also second while facing her elders in the June 22 Sweet Briar Too Stakes, which was won by future Grade 1 winner Harmony Lodge.

Winter Garden earned a career-high 94 Beyer Figure when she won a Sept. 21 classified allowance. One for Rose, a close second in that seven-furlong race, came back to win the allowance prep for the Maple Leaf Stakes with authority.

Trainer Bob Tiller has plenty of admiration for Winter Garden, whom he purchased from a Kentucky yearling sale for $30,000.

"She's a lovely filly," Tiller said. "She's out of a Bold Ruckus mare, and from a good Canadian family. If she stays sound, in my opinion she's going to be heard from for a long time."

Winter Garden is normally a front-runner, but Tiller said that she doesn't need the lead, as evidenced by her May 2 victory in an $80,000 optional claimer.

"She'll rate," Tiller said. "She'll lay wherever she needs to lay. Up to seven-eighths, she's a very good filly."

Rounding out the Fashion field are Acting Deputy, Sheila's Prospect, Leading Role, Mille Feville, Mysterious Affair, and Rich Assertion.

Acting Deputy and Mille Feville ran one-two in the allowance prep for the Fashion, each benefitting from an inside-speed bias. Both are susceptible to bounce Saturday in their second start off a layoff.

Acting Deputy won the five-furlong La Voyageuse Handicap in her season opener, then bounced three weeks later in the Whimsical Stakes. She then proceeded to reel off three consecutive third-place finishes, and was given the summer off after running a distant third in the Sweet Briar Too.

Sheila's Prospect, fourth after a wide trip in the prep, could be the sleeper in her second start following a three-month vacation.