05/09/2003 12:00AM

'Ginger' learning to rate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Jockey Richard Dos Ramos and his agent, Lorne Spearman, had a difficult decision to make regarding which contender to ride in Sunday's Grade 3, $172,950 George C. Hendrie Handicap at Woodbine.

Dos Ramos, the regular rider of Ginger Gold and Mysterious Affair, ultimately chose the versatile Ginger Gold because she has the potential to earn more this year than confirmed sprinter Mysterious Affair, according to Spearman.

Ginger Gold, Canada's champion 2-year-old in 2001, captured last year's $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks, the first race of the Canadian triple tiara. She also placed in the other two legs of the series, the Bison City and Wonder Where Stakes.

Trainer Sid Attard said Ginger Gold was sidelined with an injury after the Aug. 5 Wonder Where, a 1 1/4-mile turf race.

"We took a small chip out of her right ankle," Attard recalled. "She's been doing very good."

Ginger Gold did most of her best running on the front end in 2002, but could assume a stalking position on the outside after breaking from post 13 on Sunday.

"She's been relaxing a bit this year," Attard said. "She hasn't been speed crazy."

Mysterious Affair has banked nearly $900,000 for owner-trainer Mort Hardy, who decided to give her the second half of 2002 off when he didn't like the way she came out of a workout.

Mysterious Affair, second in both of her 2003 starts, has gained some maturity this year, according to assistant trainer Conrad Belaire, who has doubled as her groom during each of the last four years.

"She's come around nicely," Belaire said. "The time off really helped her. She was a little bit of a screwball before."

Belaire believes the addition of Lasix this year has helped to calm Mysterious Affair before her races.

"She was really hard to saddle in the paddock," Belaire said. "She was all over the place, but she's really settled down this year."

Robert Landry picks up the mount on Mysterious Affair, who won the 2001 Hendrie under Dos Ramos.

Also entered in the 6 1/2-furlong dash were Shelia's Prospect, Miss Sweep, Devastating, Spanish Decree, El Prado Essence, Leading Role, Lightning Pace, Brass in Pocket, La Ballerine, Roman Romance, and Mulrainy.

El Prado Essence won last year's Hendrie by four lengths over a sloppy track. She rallied to defeat Mysterious Affair in the allowance prep for the Hendrie.

Brass in Pocket mounted a five-wide rally to win her only start this year, in the April 12 Whimsical Stakes.