08/01/2001 11:00PM

Either surface fine for Flying Birdie

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MIAMI - It was raining heavily when entries were drawn early Thursday afternoon for Saturday's $50,000 Cool Air Handicap, and as a result the race, at five furlongs for Florida-breds, is likely to be switched to the main track.

For trainer Happy Alter, it doesn't matter which surface the Cool Air will be run at Calder. Alter sends out the speedy Flying Birdie, whom he claimed for himself for $57,500 at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4.

"I guess I'd prefer the race be run on the turf as long as it was a safe turf course," said Alter. "But either way I like my chances."

After he claimed her, Alter gave Flying Birdie more than five months off, even though she was coming off a pair of one-sided victories at Gulfstream.

"She was in dire need of some rest and minor repairs," Alter said when asked why he laid her off.

She finally got back to the races on July 13. In her turf debut, she toyed with second-level optional claiming rivals, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.

Flying Birdie's game is catch me if you can, and she will have to contend with several other speedsters in the Cool Air. Elvi Gamble is the 121-pound highweight if the race remains on the grass, and she, too, does her best running on the front end. In her most recent start, Elvi Gamble won the Lucky Lavender Girl Handicap. She also won the Marshua's River and Happy Trails handicaps earlier in the season. All three of those victories were at five furlongs on turf.

The horse to beat should the expected speed duel develop is Penny Blues, who finished fourth last out behind multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Supreme in the Grade 3 Princess Rooney Handicap. Penny Blues took up sharply when she was pinned against the inside rail around the turn of the six-furlong Princess Rooney. Penny Blues already owns a win over Elvi Gamble on grass, running her down to win Hialeah's Davie Stakes by a neck on May 19.

Tis Your Country, second to Elvi Gamble in the Lucky Lavender Girl, could also pose a late threat.

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