04/02/2003 12:00AM

Worth far more than $20k now

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Vito Armata had a sensational year in 2002, when he captured the Queen's Plate with longshot T J's Lucky Moon, and routinely improved on the many runners he claimed.

Surprisingly, Armata failed to garner enough votes to make him a Sovereign Award finalist for top trainer in 2002. He finished behind such high-profile trainers as Mark Casse, Mark Frostad and Roger Attfield, who won the award.

Armata has already made his mark at this Woodbine meet, winning the March 22 La Voyageuse Handicap with Acting Deputy, a filly he claimed for $45,000 in November.

Another Armata claim, Rich Assertion - the last horse to beat Acting Deputy - should be well backed in Friday's feature, a 6 1/2-furlong classified allowance worth $80,900.

Armata claimed Rich Assertion for $20,000 in July. She subsequently finished second against $50,000 opposition, before capping off her season with an impressive four-race win streak.

Rich Assertion's roll began in a $40,000 claimer Sept. 2. She doubled up a month later, in an $80,000 claimer, and then captured a second-level allowance with ease.

Most recently, in an $80,000 optional claimer Nov. 28, Rich Assertion dueled on the lead along the rail with Acting Deputy. She gutted it out in the stretch, defeating her entrymate by a neck while earning a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 83.

Emile Ramsammy will ride Rich Assertion, who is nominated to the April 12 Whimsical Stakes. She has worked five furlongs twice in recent weeks.

Rounding out the field of fillies and mares are Wager's Joy, Royal Dalliance, Forum Search, Roman Romance, Miss Sweep, and Dawn Edition.

Late-blooming Miss Sweep, trained by Ralph Biamonte, is also nominated to the Whimsical.

Miss Sweep also had a lucrative 2002 campaign, hitting the board in 9 of 10 starts while banking $193,084. In the fall, she finished third in the Ontario Fashion Handicap and a close second in the Grade 3 Bessarabian Handicap.

Roman Romance is dead fit from having raced at Tampa Bay Downs, where she ran third in the Minaret Stakes and fourth in the Manatee Stakes in January. She struggled home ninth in a recent route experiment there, beaten nearly 55 lengths.

John Simms trains Roman Romance, who won a seven-furlong optional claimer here in August.

Forum Search, who had a productive winter campaign at Gulfstream, was recently fourth in the La Voyageuse for trainer Mark Casse.

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