04/25/2003 12:00AM

Lady Shari begins year with a sprint


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Champion Lady Shari will clash with 2002 Sovereign Award finalists Mysterious Affair and Mulrainy in Sunday's Woodbine feature, an $80,900 allowance prep for the May 11 Hendrie Handicap.

Lady Shari was voted champion 3-year-old filly in Canada last year. A long-distance specialist, she dusted males in the Grade 3 Canadian Derby at Northlands Park in August, and beat older females Nov. 2 in the Grade 3 Maple Leaf Stakes. She has been out of action since running fifth in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Nov. 28.

Trainer Dave Cotey said he believes Lady Shari will be hurt by the 6 1/2-furlong distance of Sunday's race, and said the purpose of racing her Sunday was to help get her ready for the June 7 Ontario Matron Handicap.

"This isn't her ballgame, but she's been galloping way better than she ever has," Cotey said. "She's feeling great. She doesn't have any of that stiffness which she had last year, but I don't think that will help her going six and a half furlongs, and I haven't cranked her up at all."

Hard-trying Mysterious Affair was a Sovereign finalist for champion older filly or mare honors despite missing the second half of 2002. Owner-trainer Mort Hardy said he decided to give her an extended break after she came back from a workout at less than 100 percent.

"She didn't work very good, and wasn't standing square after, so I decided to stop on her," Hardy recalled. "She might have only needed a month or so off, but I decided to give her the rest of the year off."

Hardy had predicted that Mysterious Affair would be a tad short for her season opener in the six-furlong Whimsical Stakes, which she lost by a neck to Brass in Pocket after mounting a wide rally.

Mulrainy, who lost the champion 3-year-old filly award to Lady Shari, is making her first start since finishing third in the Nov. 3 Jammed Lovely Stakes. Trained by Tom O'Keefe, Mulrainy captured two open stakes last year, the Grade 3 Duchess and the La Lorgnette, and also won her season opener, which came in a weak allowance field.

Also entered in Sunday's headliner are Dawn Edition, Acting Deputy, and El Prado Essence.

Acting Deputy took the five-furlong La Voyageuse Handicap on the second day of the meeting, and then bounced in the six-furlong Whimsical. El Prado Essence, who won the 2002 Hendrie, has been one of the leading female sprinters at Woodbine in recent years.