08/26/2002 11:00PM

Lady Shari a conquering hero

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Lady Shari checked back into Woodbine Tuesday morning following her successful invasion of Alberta, where she was a romping winner of Saturday's Canadian Derby at Northlands Park.

If all goes according to plan, Lady Shari soon will be adding to her air miles with a trip to Vancouver for the Sept. 7 British Columbia Breeders' Cup Oaks at Hastings Park.

"We'll see how she is," said Dave Cotey, who trains Lady Shari and is a co-owner of the filly along with Derek Ball and Hugh Galbraith. "We'll go really, really easy with her.

"She's fit enough now. She doesn't have to do anything."

Lady Shari didn't have to do all that much in Edmonton, as she demolished her male and female rivals with a seven-length romp under regular rider Constant Montpellier in the $150,000 Canadian Derby.

"She only ran about a quarter of a mile real hard," said Cotey, who had watched Lady Shari fall some 10 lengths back midway through the 1 3/8-mile derby. "She just dragged Constant right up to them, and when he chirped to her that was it.

"She just blew away from them. She did it real easy."

The ease of her victory encourages Cotey to believe that swinging right back in the $175,000 British Columbia Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, will not be too much of a hardship for Lady Shari.

"We did that with her before, when she won the Mazarine," said Cotey, pointing out that Lady Shari had won her maiden over 1 1/16 miles here last Sept. 8, then won at the same distance in the Grade 1 Mazarine Sept. 22.

Stage Classic takes aim at Niagara

The Canadian Derby was the first stakes win of 2002 for Cotey, who won two at Woodbine plus the Manitoba Derby last year.

"We got spoiled," said Cotey. "We haven't got one of the huge outfits."

Stage Classic contributed two of those stakes scores, adding the Sky Classic to the Manitoba Derby, and will be looking to give the barn a new high in Saturday's Niagara Breeders' Cup Handicap.

The Niagara, a 1 1/2-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward, offers Grade 1 status and a purse of $300,000.

"He worked real good the other day," said Cotey, who watched Stage Classic drill six furlongs in 1:15.20 on the main track last Saturday. "He galloped out a real strong mile. He's in good order."

Tackling Stress gets grass opportunity

Cotey and company will be eyeing another lucrative spot here Sept. 8 with Tackling Stress slated to make his turf debut in the $250,000 Summer, a Grade 2 race for 2-year-olds.

Tackling Stress was a lengthy winner of his five-furlong debut and then finished second in the six-furlong Colin. Cotey had hoped to expose the colt to grass in the Summer prep, which was offered several times but failed to fill.

Strait From Texas takes Colleen for Buttigieg

Paul Buttigieg recorded his first stakes win in more than four years here on Sunday when Strait From Texas, a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old, captured the Ontario Colleen over one mile on turf.

The filly, purchased by Buttigieg for $12,500 at the 2000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale, is one of six horses he trains for Jim Michael, a Detroit resident who has been a client for 20-odd years.

Strait From Texas had finished second in a division of the Natalma over a mile on turf here last September and wintered at Tampa Bay Downs, where she was unplaced in two main-track appearances.

But her star has been rising steadily since she returned to turf here this June, and she had captured the allowance prep for the Colleen over one mile here Aug. 9.

"She's just been coming around and around," said Buttigieg. "She's getting stronger and stronger. We train her fairly hard, and she just keeps putting on weight all the time. That's a good sign."

Buttigieg is unsure of his next move with Strait From Texas, whose local opportunities are limited because of her birthplace.

"She's still eligible for nonwinners of three other than," he noted. "After that, we might take have to take her to Kentucky.

"A mile has been her best distance, but I think she'll definitely go further. Last year, she used to lay close to the speed. This year you can rate her, do whatever you want with her."

Nearctic win stands out

Buttigieg still ranks Rushiscomingup's victory in the Nearctic Handicap here in June 1998 as his biggest thrill in racing.

Co-owned by Buttigieg in partnership with Marko Farrugia, Rushiscomingup was making his first start in almost six months when he upset the Nearctic at 18-1.

Rushiscomingup, now 9 years old, continued to race into this meet but was retired after finishing well back in a $20,000 claiming race May 29.

"I still have him," said Buttigieg, who watched Rushiscomingup compile a career record of 10-8-3 and earnings of $389,287 from 38 starts. "He's turned out, on the farm."

Buttigieg noted that his three career stakes scores all have come here on the turf. His first was with Cranareen, in the 1980 La Prevoyante.

Leading Role back on dirt

Leading Role, coming off a series of fine turf efforts, should be a solid proposition when she moves to the main track in Thursday's feature, a six-furlong money allowance for fillies and mares.

Leading Role led nearly all the way when she won her second start of the year, in a six-furlong optional claimer on May 19. She subsequently ran second to stakes winner Lush Soldier in an $80,000 optional claimer on the grass, and then showed she could rally and win when she prevailed in another $80,000 grass event.

Most recently, in the Grade 3 Royal North Handicap, Leading Role tracked the pace while three wide through the turn. She was in ideal striking position in the stretch but flattened out in the final furlong to finish 2 1/2 lengths in arrears in fourth.

Todd Kabel has the call on Leading Role, who is owned in part by her trainer, Gail Casselman.

Rounding out the eighth-race field are Miss Sweep, Whistling Maid, Dreams Go Bye, Fickle Fanny, and Crumpet.

Dreams Go Bye and Whistling Maid are both fast fillies who need the lead. Dreams Go Bye set a scorching pace before fading to finish third behind heavily favored Krz Ruckus last time out in the Blazing Sevens Stakes at Fort Erie. She could prevail in the front-end battle, while helping to set the table for a closer.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink