04/23/2003 11:00PM

Grade 1 filly Dress to Thrill makes first start of year

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Grade 1 winners rarely ship in to compete at Calder Race Course this early in the season, but such will be the case when Dress to Thrill opens her 2003 campaign in Saturday's $150,000 Calder Breeders' Cup Handicap on the turf.

Trainer Christophe Clement sees the 1 1/16-mile mile Calder Breeders' Cup as the perfect starting point for what he hopes will be a championship-caliber season for Dress to Thrill.

Dress to Thrill closed out 2002 with a win by a head over Eclipse Award winner Golden Apples in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes.

"I took it easy on her in December and January, but she's been training ever since and doing well," said Clement. "I hope to give her a good race to start off the year, and if all goes well take her to California for the Gamely Stakes [May 26]."

Dress to Thrill, who finished eighth against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Mile in her U.S. debut, will carry top weight of 122 pounds, including Jose Santos, on Saturday.

Thirteen older fillies and mares entered the Calder Breeders' Cup, four of whom will start only if the race is switched to the dirt.

Dress to Thrill figures to receive her stiffest challenge from the locally based pair of Stay Forever and Cellars Shiraz.

Stay Forever seeks to rebound from a fourth-place finish behind Amonita in Gulfstream Park's Grade 3 Suwannee River Handicap on March 2. In her previous start, the stretch-running Stay Forever rallied to a 1 1/4-length victory over Cellars Shiraz in the Sunshine Millions Turf.

"The pace in the Suwannee River killed her," said Marty Wolfson, who trains Stay Forever for her breeder, the Santa Cruz Ranch. "They went in 1:13 and change and she was almost a dozen lengths back. She's doing well, and Jesus Castanon will ride her."

Cellars Shiraz will try to maintain a pattern in which she has won every other start dating back to her victory in Calder's Office Queen Stakes in June. She has finished worse than second only once in 12 starts over the turf, although she is equally effective on dirt.

Should the Calder Breeders' Cup come off the grass, Cellars Shiraz will be the likely favorite over Castlebrook and Redoubled Miss.

Castlebrook, among the leaders of the filly and mare handicap division here for several years, was purchased privately and turned over to Wolfson at the end of her 2002 campaign. A two-time stakes winner last year, Castlebrook has not started since finishing fifth in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap on Nov. 16.