11/14/2002 12:00AM

It's Castlebrook vs. Coolbythepool XVIII


MIAMI - Their confrontations over the years may not have had the same national impact as Alydar and Affirmed's but, locally, it's hard to remember another rivalry as keen or evenly matched as the one between Castlebrook and Coolbythepool, which continues in Saturday's $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap.

Castlebrook and Coolbythepool will square off for the 18th time in the 1 1/8-mile Heubeck. The rivalry dates back to the pair's 2-year-old campaigns. Castlebrook holds a 9-8 edge in head-to-head competition over the years. During the past two seasons the two mares, now 5-year-olds, have dominated their division while combining to win 10 stakes races between them, six by Castlebrook and four by Coolbythepool.

"I think this type of thing is great for racing," said Bill Kaplan, who trains Castlebrook for owners Herb and Ione Elkins. "It certainly has made the distaff division interesting here the past two seasons with the two of them competing to be queen of Calder."

The two mares were hard to separate a year ago, when Castlebrook won 4 of 13 starts and earned $141,432, and Coolbythepool won 3 of 13 starts while earning $141,968 for her owners, the Town and Country Corp. This season has been no different. Coolbythepool had an edge early, winning three stakes during the summer before Castlebrook got a measure of revenge with an easy victory in the Shocker T. Handicap last month.

"It's pretty unique to have two horses at this level run that many times against each other over a four-year span," said Coolbythepool's trainer, Marty Wolfson. "I think Castlebrook has the advantage since she can stalk the pace, while my filly is at a disadvantage if there is no pace because she comes from farther behind."

Despite the presence of Castlebrook and Coolbythepool, the Heubeck is anything but a two-mare race - not when the competition includes Cellars Shiraz and the Puerto Rican invader Tonight's Wager.

Cellars Shiraz has dominated the 3-year-old filly division in south Florida all year, but will be taking on older horses for the first time on Saturday.

Tonight's Wager is perfect in eight starts in 2002, each of her victories coming at El Comandante in Puerto Rico. She has been sent to trainer Bill Mott for her U.S. debut.

"This will be a very tough race for both our horses," said Wolfson. "Cellars Shiraz is certainly a formidable rival and Mott's filly really looks interesting."

Kaplan agrees.

"I don't think we can just worry about each other in this one," he said. "There are some other shooters in this race who can really run. It won't be easy for either of us."