02/21/2003 1:00AM

Big group challenges 'Shiraz'

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Cellars Shiraz will be a strong favorite in Sunday's $75,000 Georgia Stakes at Gulfstream Park, but her presence in the one-mile turf race did not scare anyone away.

Cellars Shiraz, a multiple stakes winner over this turf course as a 3-year-old, will face 10 rivals in the Allen Paulson division of the Georgia Stakes, open to the progeny of stallions who had a breeding right donated to the Georgia Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association annual auction.

Cellars Shiraz made her 4-year-old debut in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf on Jan. 25, a nine-furlong race in which she led by 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole only to be run down late by Stay Forever.

"It may have made a little difference if she had seen that horse," trainer William Cesare said. "The jock [Eibar Coa] said he didn't see that horse until he was too late. It may have been different if they were side by side."

Cellars Shiraz came out of that race to work a strong mile in 1:42.80 at Calder on Feb. 14.

"That was as fast as she ever worked in the morning for us," Cesare said. "We usually go in 1:47. The rider got a little carried away and the track was a tad fast."

Cellars Shiraz drew the rail and will be the 121-pound highweight under Coa.

Silver Rail won a stakes over this course two years ago and put in a useful effort when third in an allowance race here on Feb. 2. She is reunited with Jerry Bailey, who was aboard for that 2001 stakes score.

Libretto, who finished fourth in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf, and Something Ventured, a second-level allowance winner here Jan. 20, are in with a chance.

Westerly Breeze returns

Westerly Breeze, winner of the Grade 2 Alcibiades as a 2-year-old, will begin her 3-year-old campaign Sunday in the $50,000 Charon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. Westerly Breeze last raced in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, where she finished sixth, 18 lengths behind Storm Flag Flying.

While trainer Carl Nafzger believes Westerly Breeze is better going long, Nafzger didn't want to run her and My Boston Gal against each other in the Davona Dale.

The horse to beat in the Charon may be Chimichurri, who won the Grade 3 Tempted at one mile to end her 2-year-old season. She is coming in off a second-place finish in the six-furlong Old Hat Stakes on Feb. 2.

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