06/14/2013 2:24PM

Woodbine: Sweet Little Man aims to use Victoria Park as springboard to Queen's Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – At this time last year, trainer Danny Vella was just more than a week away from what would be his Queen’s Plate tour de force with Strait of Dover.

This spring, Vella is hoping to get back to the Queen’s Plate with Sweet Little Man, who will be looking to earn his spurs as the lone Canadian-bred in the field of four for the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park Stakes.

Excepting the common denominator of the trainer, Strait of Dover and Sweet Little Man have been very different at this stage of their 3-year-old careers.

Strait of Dover, bred in British Columbia by his owners Wally and Connie Leung, had been perfect in his three starts at the meeting and was coming off a romp in the 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes.

Sweet Little Man, bred in Ontario by his owner Don Amos, has finished second in each of his outings this season, including a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles that was his first try around two turns.

“This is a nice horse,” said Vella, who also won the 1994 Queen’s Plate with Basqueian when he was training for Frank Stronach. “He’s not as ‘made’ as Strait of Dover was. Strait of Dover was more aggressive – he was all pro from his first start as a 3-year-old.”

Sweet Little Man raced four times as a 2-year-old, running well on all occasions and graduating in a race at seven furlongs in his final start of the season.

“He was at a training center in Kentucky for the winter,” Vella said. “He didn’t get the full benefit, like being in Florida, but he did start up there early in the year.”

Sweet Little Man was back at Woodbine in early April and finished a solid second behind the winter-raced Drenched in his seasonal bow at seven furlongs.

Three weeks later, on May 26, Sweet Little Man pressed the pace of the promising Kentucky-bred Brilliant Comet and again had to settle for second money.

With a 1 1/8-mile allowance race scheduled for Sunday failing to fill, Sweet Little Man winds up making his stakes debut in the Victoria Park.

“I think it’s going to be a real cat-and-mouse game,” Vella said, looking at the short field. “This race is what I call a jockey’s race.”

Emma-Jayne Wilson, who rode Sweet Little Man for the first time in his last outing, will be back on the irons and looking to pounce in the Victoria Park.

“In his training since his last race, he’s stepped up a notch,” Vella said. “The thing with these Queen’s Plate horses, you don’t want them to peak too early. He’s on the right curve. Our main goal is July 7.”

Sweet Little Man had his major tune-up for the Victoria Park here Monday, breezing five furlongs in 59.60 seconds while going in company with 5-year-old stablemate Alpha Bettor.

Winner of the Grade 2 Eclipse Stakes in his seasonal bow here May 12, Alpha Bettor is among 13 nominees for the July 1 Dominion Day Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds and up that offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $150,000.

Meanwhile, Strait of Dover has not seen action since winning last year’s Queen’s Plate, having suffered a suspensory-related injury when training for the Breeders’ Stakes here in August.

Sent to trainer Don MacRae’s farm in the Fort Erie area late last summer, Strait of Dover returned to Woodbine in late March and has progressed from jogging to galloping but has yet to breeze.

“He’s on the comeback trail,” Vella said. “We’re letting him dictate the timetable to us.”

Ross still hoping to make Victoria

John Ross had been looking forward to next Saturday’s Victoria Stakes with Go Greeley, a 2-year-old who was an impressive winner in his debut here May 19.

But fate has intervened, in the form of the equine herpesvirus that invaded Barn 1, and his 12-horse string currently is under quarantine along with the rest of some 50 horses in that barn and another 60-plus horses in Barn 3.

“I’ve been dreaming about that stakes after he broke his maiden,” Ross said. “I was looking so forward to it.

“You have horses, you go all the way to Florida for the winter, you work hard and you get everything all done, and then all of a sudden this happens.

“I’ve been around the racetrack for a lot of years, and I never dreamed anything like this would happen. But we’ve got to deal with it.”

Still, Ross had not given up hope of getting Go Greeley to the Victoria, a five-furlong race for 2-year-olds that is worth $125,000.

“I’ve got a small window left, if I could get to train with him the next couple of days. I just need to do one little breeze with him.”

The 21 nominees for the Victoria include seven who are based in the United States. The quarantine could be lifted by then, but if not, those horses could ship in but would not be able to leave until the quarantine is cleared.

One horse currently in that position is Kid Dreams. Based in California with Neil Drysdale, Kid Dreams was flown in for last Sunday’s Plate Trial Stakes and was slated to return home after finishing fifth. He has been grounded until the situation is resolved.

Something Extra skips King Edward

The Grade 2 King Edward Gold Cup, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up, will be in the spotlight next Sunday.

But the prospective field does not include Something Extra, who captured the first turf stakes of the meeting for older horses when going gate to wire in the Grade 2 Connaught Cup at seven furlongs.

Gail Cox, trainer and co-owner of Something Extra in partnership with John Menary, said after the May 26 Connaught Cup that she would await the Highlander Stakes and she is sticking to that plan.

The Highlander, a six-furlong turf race for 3-year-olds and up that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $200,000, will be one of four stakes on the July 7 Queen’s Plate program.

“I think he would prefer the six furlongs,” Cox said.

Riding the River, Hotep, and Valentino Beauty, the respective second- through fourth-place finishers in the Connaught Cup, are expected to renew acquaintances in the King Edward.

◗ There have been a couple of changes on the jockey agent carousel recently. Mike Luider, long-time agent for Emma-Jayne Wilson, also has renewed his business relationship with journeyman Jim McAleney, whom he represented several years back.

Nick Webb, the apprentice rider who had been represented by Luider, now is with Tony Esposito, who also books mounts for Luis Contreras.