10/21/2004 11:00PM

Yakteen gets his shot with Sabiango

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Tim Yakteen experienced his share of international success during his days as an assistant to trainers Charlie Whittingham and Bob Baffert.

His highlights included a Japan Cup victory with the Whittingham-trained Golden Pheasant in 1991 and a Dubai World Cup victory with Baffert and Captain Steve in 2001.

Yakteen's travels have also brought him to Woodbine. He was here for Whittingham when Urgent Request ran 10th in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Mile.

But Yakteen has returned here this week in a far different guise.

At age 40, Yakteen began training on his own account at the end of September and will be competing in the biggest race of his new career when he sends out Sabiango in Sunday's Grade 1, $1.5 million Canadian International.

"He's a professional shipper," said Yakteen. "Everything's going smoothly."

Sabiango will be competing in his second Canadian International, having finished fifth last year when racing for his German breeders and trainer Andreas Wohler.

Purchased privately by high-profile horseman and author Monty Roberts last winter, Sabiango won his first start for Baffert in the Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on June 12.

After finishing 11th in his next start, which came in the Aug. 14 Arlington Million, Sabiango returned to action six weeks later as Yakteen's first official starter.

"Monty and Bob had talked, and both wanted to support me," said Yakteen. "They let me take over as his trainer."

Sabiango's debut for Yakteen came in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf, a 1 1/2-mile turf race at Kentucky Downs in which he proved a comfortable winner.

"He ran a great race," said Yakteen. "Basically, it set up the way we wanted.

"We wanted a less competitive race to run in," he said. "We were already looking to Woodbine and were hoping to use the Kentucky Cup as a prep for this race."

With that mission accomplished, Yakteen said he knows Sabiango will face a much stiffer assignment in the International.

"We have to respect our competition; there are horses coming into the race with very strong credentials," said Yakteen. "But this horse is training absolutely great. We'll just look for some racing luck. He doesn't really need the race to unfold in any particular scenario. He has tactical speed; you can place him wherever you want."

Woodbine makes right move

Woodbine's decision to move the Canadian International and the E.P. Taylor Stakes to a time of year when they compete with the Breeders' Cup has paid off in spades this year.

A total of nine horses who made their last start in Europe - five in the International, four in the Taylor - shipped here specifically for Sunday's races.

The Breeders' Cup program, on the other hand, attracted just 11 pre-entrants who had made their last start overseas.

A major reason for Woodbine's coup is that this year's Breeders' Cup Day is at Lone Star Park, which has a layout and going seen as unfavorable to the Europeans.

The same rationale has resulted in Strut the Stage, a locally based horse, passing on the International and shipping to Texas for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

"Both races are equally strong, but I think this one favors the European horses," said Mark Frostad, who trains Strut the Stage for Sam-Son Farm. "They're calling for more rain. I thought the turf here would be too soft for him."

Strut the Stage is scheduled to depart Sunday along with stablemate Soaring Free, who will run in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Meanwhile, Frostad and Sam-Son still will have two International contestants, Colorful Judgement and Burst of Fire, both of whom appear to have their work cut out for them.

Mubtaker vs. Sulamani

The Canadian International could boil down to a battle between Mubtaker and Sulamani, both of whom have second-place finishes in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Mubtaker, last year's Arc runner-up, will be a better price than Sulamani, who was second in the 2002 Arc.

A 7-year-old horse owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Mubtaker has started just twice this year. After winning his first race since the Oct. 5 Arc at Newbury on Aug. 14, Mubtaker ran seventh in a Group 1 race in Germany on Sept. 5 over ground termed "desperate" by trainer Marcus Tregoning.

"He's a fresh horse going into a big race," said Tregoning, a first-time visitor to Woodbine who watched Mubtaker train strongly over the turf course here Friday morning. "He's obviously a fit horse, and I think the track's very fair. It's the type of track we know well. [The Canadian International] has come up quite strong. But if Mubtaker runs his race, and I don't know why he shouldn't, it's guaranteed he'll be thereabouts."