04/22/2005 12:00AM

Cee's Irish faces 10 in Melair

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Benoit & Associates
Cee's Irish wins the $101,600 Blue Norther at Santa Anita in January, one of three stakes victories she has scored in her last five starts.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The recent win by Cee's Irish in the Sunland Park Oaks will make her the favorite in Sunday's $200,000 Melair Stakes at Hollywood Park, but it has not scared off an interesting cast of rivals.

is one of 11 California-bred 3-year-old fillies in the Melair, run over 1 1/16 miles. Her main competition includes Lady Bertrando, a Turf Paradise stakes winner; Leave Me Alone, who was second in the Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita; and Dayglogreen, the runner-up in the Sunland Park Oaks.

None of those fillies has accomplished as much as Cee's Irish, a winner of 4 of 9 starts and $335,480 who is owned by Merv Griffin and trained by Doug O'Neill.

Second in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies last October, Cee's Irish has won three stakes in her last five starts. The only blemish on her 2005 record is a fifth in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 12, a race that took her off the Kentucky Oaks trail, O'Neill said.

"We tried the Fair Grounds race and to me that was a Kentucky Oaks-caliber race," O'Neill said. "She seems a cut below. She was a non-threatening fifth."

Since that race, Cee's Irish has been excellent. She was a game second in the China Doll Stakes on turf at Santa Anita on March 12 before leading throughout the Sunland Park Oaks, a race she won by 2 1/4 lengths.

In the Melair, Cee's Irish could face pressure throughout. Charming Colleen, who was third in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in February, has speed, as do Never to Excess, who is making her first start around two turns, and Dayglogreen.

O'Neill is convinced that Cee's Irish is not one-dimensional.

"She doesn't need the front," he said.

O'Neill is also expecting a big performance from Unusual Spring, the winner of an allowance race on turf on March 20. Unusual Spring won a race for maidens by five lengths at Santa Anita in January before finishing a troubled sixth in the Burlingame Stakes on a sloppy track at Bay Meadows on Feb. 19. O'Neill's concern is whether she can duplicate her recent turf win back on the main track.

The surface will not be an issue for Cee's Irish. She has repeatedly displayed the ability to fight through the stretch, another reason why she will be favored on Sunday.

"The fact she's a Cal-bred makes this an ideal spot," O'Neill said.