10/18/2006 11:00PM

Improving filly Shaggy Mane runs into veteran

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - With the entry of Vaca City Flyer, Shaggy Mane will face the toughest race of her life when she makes her stakes debut in the $100,000 William P. Kyne Breeders' Cup Express at Bay Meadows on Saturday.

But will Shaggy Mane's entry make this Vaca City Flyer's toughest northern California challenge since she moved into trainer Art Sherman's barn last December?

At the least, this looks like Vaca City Flyer's most difficult test since she ran fourth in the Grade 3 Las Flores behind Behaving Badly in February. That was the only time in eight starts that the 5-year-old mare has not won for Sherman. She has won four straight stakes, including two on the turf, and five straight overall coming into Saturday's six-furlong race.

Sherman originally planned to run Vaca City Flyer in the Cal Cup Distaff at 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf at Oak Tree. But the presence of course specialist Cambiocorsa in that race prompted Sherman and owner Jim Vlahos to decide to run on a track where Vaca City Flyer has five wins and has hit the board in 8 of 9 starts.

"The owner's from here and wanted to run here," Sherman said.

Five signed up to challenge the queen of northern California sprinting, including old rival Royal Kleven, who has been three times a runner-up to Vaca City Flyer, twice in stakes. Also entered are Bid of Genius, Vino Tinto and Sweet Ambition, all of whom are stakes-placed.

And then there is Shaggy Mane.

A 3-year-old filly claimed by trainer Lloyd Mason for $12,500 on Aug. 3 at Santa Rosa, Shaggy Mane has won four straight since coming north. She graduated by six lengths and won each of her next three starts by eight.

The Kyne has been on her agenda since she won a $50,000 optional claimer at Golden Gate Fields on Sept. 24.

The speedy Shaggy Mane drew the outside post, while Vaca City Flyer drew the rail, and she'll be getting 10 pounds from Vaca City Flyer, the race's highweight at 125 pounds.

"She's been working well," Mason said of Shaggy Mane. "I feel a whole lot better after the draw. All we can do is see what happens. She's in tough, but she's been pretty impressive."

Shaggy Mane has been able to open up early and has been unchallenged of late. That scenario will not unfold Saturday.

After watching her impressive victory at Golden Gate, Sherman lavished compliments on Shaggy Mane, but also pointed out the obvious: "She won't get an easy trip like that against Vaca City Flyer."