10/09/2002 11:00PM

Cellars Shiraz must be caught


MIAMI - Trainer Bill Cesare has a definite strategy in mind for Cellars Shiraz in Saturday's $200,000 Calder Oaks, and he's perfectly willing to share it with anyone willing to listen - even his 10 rivals for the 1 1/8-mile grass race for 3-year-old fillies.

"I'm going to the lead and whoever wants to come with me [can] go on with it," Cesare said. "And [if] they beat me, good luck to them."

The Oaks kicks off the $250,000 guaranteed pick four on Saturday's $1.65 million Festival of the Sun program. It will be followed by the $400,000 My Dear Girl Stakes, $400,000 In Reality, and $200,000 Calder Derby.

Cellars Shiraz is the hometown favorite in the Oaks. A Florida-bred daughter of Kissin Kris, Cellars Shiraz has been nearly unbeatable in her native state this year, having won her last five starts in Florida. Three of those victories came on grass. She also won the Gaily Gaily and Office Queen Stakes on dirt.

Cellars Shiraz has also held her own out of state. She finished second to Maliziosa in Churchill Downs's Edgewood Stakes, fifth after making the lead near midstretch in Hollywood Park's American Oaks, and second in her last start, Arlington Park's Grade 3 Pucker Up.

"I wanted her on the lead in the Pucker Up but the rider [Cornelio Velasquez] wound up taking a hold of her for the first five-eighths," Cesare said. "She ended up dueling on even terms with the eventual winner [Little Treasure] and then could not finish with that filly. Just looking at her form it's obvious she's at her best when on the front end and I don't really see much speed to go with her Saturday."

Cellars Shiraz figures to get her stiffest test in the Oaks from familiar rival Malizioa.

"My filly lost a shoe and the ground was soft for the Edgewood, but we all ran on the same racetrack and she beat us fair and square," Cesare said. "We finished in front of her in California and hopefully we can beat her again here."

Velasquez retains the mount on Cellars Shiraz who is owned by her breeder, Bitterroot Racing Stable.

Maliziosa has tailed off a bit after winning three straight, including the Edgewood and Hawthorne's Summertime Promise Breeders' Cup during the spring. She has faced some of the best members of her division in her last two starts. She finished sixth and seventh in the Grade 2 Lake Placid and Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup handicaps.

Jerry Bailey, who is 2 for 2 aboard Maliziosa this year, rides the daughter of Dynaformer in the Oaks.

The Grade 3 Calder Derby also features a rematch, between Miesque's Approval, trained by Bill Mott, and the Randy Schulhofer-trained Union Place.

Union Place won the pair's first meeting when finishing second, beaten one length by Finality, in Belmont's Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap. It was the third consecutive time Union Place has finished second.

"It's not frustrating because I know he's running great, but [he] just happened to run into some nice horses in all three of those races," Schulhofer said. "But he's doing better than he's ever done right now so maybe he'll finally get back to the winner's circle Saturday."

Miesque's Approval finished fifth in the Jamaica. A stakes winner at 2, he opened his 3-year-old campaign with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Hill Prince and a victory in the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup.

He will race on Lasix for the first time in the derby but must concede his rivals from seven to nine pounds under the allowance conditions of the stakes.