09/10/2004 11:00PM

Canadian shipper is the class

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COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - Typically, when a filly ships south for a stakes race at Fairmount, she hails from a Chicago barn intent on bullying downstate underdogs out of one of their better purses. Rarely, if ever, does a horse who has been racing regularly in Canada swoop down for a piece of the pie.

Tuff Justice, winner of the $40,000 Winnipeg Futurity at Assiniboia Downs, is that rare horse. A Kentucky-bred 2-year-old trained by John Betts, she stumbled badly at the start of her last race and finished eighth in the $175,000 Ontario Debutante at Woodbine on Aug. 22. Regardless, she still looks to be the class of the field in Tuesday's $25,000 Shuvee Stakes at Fairmount Park.

"It's very odd," said veteran Fairmount-based trainer Leroy Hellman of Tuff Justice's inclusion in a 10-horse field.

But as formidable as Tuff Justice looks, Fairmount juvenile races are a haven for maidens to beat winners, as evidenced by Yukon's Gambler's victory in the Buckpasser Stakes on Labor Day. Should this trend continue, the Hellman-trained Denoun N Deverb might find the winner's circle for the first time after two game second-place finishes against competition similar to what she will face here.

"She'll hit the board for sure," said Hellman, who had moderate success shipping low-level claimers into Ellis Park late in that Kentucky track's recently ended meet.

Tuff Justice's toughest competition may come from Luckie May Breeze, who picks up the nation's winningest jockey, Rafael Bejarano, after winning her debut race on July 30 at Ellis. But Fairmount racing secretary Bobby Pace Pace is careful not to overvalue experience with these youngsters.

"If there's any race where a maiden could win, it's a 2-year-old race," said Pace.

If bettors are fond of such rationale, they may be intrigued by first-time starter Wildwood Beauty, who hails from a bloodstock-savvy barn that rarely spots its rookies in places where they can not run in the money.