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CHIEF BEARHART CRUISES IN CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL

Chief Bearhart, Canada's champion male turf runner of 1996, clinched a repeat of that title Sunday and also opened the door for a second shot at the Breeders' Cup.

Ridden by Jose Santos, the 4-year-old chestnut colt romped to a 2 1/4 -length victory in the $1 million Canadian International before 8,355 spectators at Woodbine.

"He passed horses like everybody was standing still," said Santos as he described how "The Chief" shot past all five rivals on the far turn of the 1 1/2 -mile turf race, the richest thoroughbred event in Canada this year.

"I knew around the half-mile (from the finish line) pole that I had the race wrapped up," Santos said.

"He cannot be in a better form than he was today. . . . He did it very easy," Santos said. "This horse is not going to embarrass Canada anywhere he goes."

It is not certain where he will go next. But Mark Frostad, who trains Chief Bearhart for Ernie Samuel's Sam-Son Farm, said there's a chance the Chief will try the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf over the same distance at Hollywood Park on Nov. 8. Chief Bearhart, then ridden by Sandy Hawley, finished 11th in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf when it was held at Woodbine.

"Assuming he comes out of the race in good order and picks up right where he left off training, I would see no reason why not to (go to Hollywood), " Frostad said.

"I don't particularly like that long trip. I'd have to see what the weather's like. There are a lot of things to consider," said Frostad, who added "his whole campaign was pointed for this race."

Sent off the 3-5 favorite, Chief Bearhart (who paid $3.30) fell some 10 lengths back in the early running while stablemate Desert Waves (with Hawley up) and Romanov (Olivier Peslier) ran noses apart through a leisurely half-mile in 50 4/5 seconds.

Santos gave Chief Bearhart the signal to go with about three-quarters of a mile left and the eventual winner sprang to action.

"I was starting to get a little bit worried that the pace was too slow and I was too far back. So I tapped him a little bit on the shoulder and he just went on," Santos said.

Down The Aisle (Pat Day up) finished second, followed by a strung-out field of Romanov, Strategic Choice, Crown Attorney and Desert Waves.

The $600,000 winner's share boosted Chief Bearhart's career bankroll to $1,431,847 as he passed two other millionaires -- Sam-Son's Desert Waves ($1,014,206) and Windways Farm's Victor Cooley ($1,056,592) -- in Frostad's barn.

Chief Bearhart's success in the 60th edition of a race that has been won by champions Secretariat, Dahlia, Exceller and All Along, also served as a tonic for the recuperating Samuel, who suffered bleeding between his brain and skull on New Year's Eve.

"He was standing and cheering him in the whole way down the stretch," said Samuel's daughter, Tammy Samuel-Bolaz, after watching the race in the clubhouse with her father, who uses a wheelchair.

"We were planning on this race and I don't think any of us allowed ourselves to look past it. So now we sort of have to regroup and decide what we're going to do," she said.

She said racing has helped his recovery "enormously. This has always been dad's great love. . . . I think racing probably is the best medicine. He loves it."

Earlier, favored Kool Kat Katie ($6.80), an Irish-bred filly purchased three weeks ago by George Strawbridge, a member of the board of directors of the Buffalo Sabres, won the secondary feature, the $300,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes.

"I've been trying to win the E.P. Taylor for 20 years now. I've sent over my best horses to run in it. . . . I think it is one of the hardest races to win in North America," said Strawbridge, who lives near Philadelphia.

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