02/15/2007 1:00AM

Less than ideal distance may not stop Oonagh Maccool


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Todd Pletcher would rather have a little more distance and a better post for Oonagh Maccool in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Sabin Handicap at Gulfstream Park. But such little inconveniences shouldn't deter Oonagh Maccool from making a successful return off a 6o1/2-month hiatus in the one-mile Sabin.

The Sabin shares top billing on the card with the Grade 3, $150,000 Hurricane Bertie Handicap.

Oonagh Maccool, an Irish-bred mare, has not started since finishing last, 21 lengths behind stablemate Spun Sugar, in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga on July 30. She came out of the race with an ankle injury which didn't require surgery, Pletcher said. Before the Go for Wand, Oonagh Maccool had captured two Grade 2 stakes, including the Rampart Handicap here going 1 1/8 miles in late March.

"She's training well for her return, but I wish we didn't have the 1 hole because she's not a terrific gate horse," Pletcher said. "I also think she prefers to go further than a mile, although with some of the big races they have in New York during the summer I wanted to try her at a one-turn mile to see how she handles it."

Pletcher said as long as Oonagh Maccool breaks with the field, jockey Rafael Bejarano won't have to rush her to avoid trouble from the rail.

"She's tactical enough that she should be fine down in there as long as she breaks well," said Pletcher, who trains Oonagh Maccool for owner Charles Wacker III.

There are seven other horses in the Sabin, including Grecian Lover and Swap Fliparoo from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. They will race uncoupled in the wagering.

Swap Fliparoo, a Grade 1 winner at 3, appears the stronger of the pair, although she has done most of her racing at sprint distances. A stretch-running daughter of Exchange Rate, Swap Fliparoo rallied from the rear of the pack to finish second behind runaway winner Shaggy Mane in the six-furlong Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint on Jan. 27.

"Originally I thought about sending her to Maryland for the Barbara Fritchie, but with the weather being bad up there I decided to keep her here," said Jerkens. "I thought she ran well in her last race. Nobody was going to catch the winner. We'll see how she handles a mile, but she was second going a mile and one-eighth earlier in her career, so I think she'll be okay."

Jerkens will also have one of the fillies to beat, Any Limit, in the 6o1/2-furlong Hurricane Bertie.

Any Limit overcame a slow start to post an impressive 2 1/2-length decision over Contrast in the Grade 3 First Lady Handicap on Jan. 20. Contrast will be among her nine rivals again in the Hurricane Bertie.

"Not only did Any Limit break slow, but she was carried wide, and I thought all in all it was a very good effort," said Jerkens. "And if she can repeat that kind of race Saturday she should be very tough again. She never started at 2 so she's still learning, and I think her last race showed she is finally learning to come off the pace a little bit."

Contrast should benefit from her race in the First Lady. She returned from a seven-month layoff that day to finish a game second despite engaging in a race-long pace battle. Trained by Alan Goldberg, Contrast won her only two starts in 2006, both stakes.

The pace should be a fast one in the First Lady, with Stormy Kiss, My Lucky Free, and Coli Bear joining Contrast in the starting gate.

Stormy Kiss won the Grade 2 Honorable Miss last summer at Saratoga, where she also finished third in the Grade 1 Ballerina.

My Lucky Free has not started since having a three-race win streak snapped in Keeneland's Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes on Oct. 21.