05/23/2004 11:00PM

Mr. Epperson a twin threat

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Nine-year-old Mr. Epperson, Canada's champion sprinter in 2001, heads the second race at Woodbine Wednesday, an $80,000 optional claimer scheduled for six furlongs on the grass.

Heavy rains hit the Toronto area over the weekend, which could lead to Wednesday's second race being taken off the turf, but Mr. Epperson can handle either surface when he's on his game.

Mr. Epperson experienced a quiet 2002 campaign, winning just 1 of 9 starts, but had a more productive season last year, when he posted a 2-4-2 record in 11 starts and surpassed the $1 million mark in career earnings. Perhaps the highlight of his 2003 campaign was a game score over Sir Blitz in six-furlong turf sprint in October, for which he was awarded a Beyer Figure of 94.

Mr. Epperson put away two rivals on the front end before giving way when third in his only outing this year, a five-furlong optional claimer April 24 on the main track. Lead by Example, the troubled runner-up that day, came right back to win.

Trainer Scott Fairlie has plenty of admiration for Mr. Epperson, whom he claimed for $50,000 in the spring of 1999.

"He's been a nice horse for us," said Fairlie. "He's probably one of the smartest horses I've been around. He's just a pleasure to be with."

Fairlie began the Woodbine meeting slowly, but has really turned his fortunes around during the last week or two. He won Monday's first race with favored Mr. Perpetuity, and took Saturday's Grade 3 Marine Stakes with Judiths Wild Rush.

Tusayan was recently fifth in the allowance prep for the Connaught Cup Stakes, which was his first appearance off a seven-month layoff. Tusayan captured two restricted stakes over soft ground last year. He has just a second-place finish to his credit from three starts on dirt.

Sir Blitz hasn't started since his second-place finish to Mr. Epperson last Oct. 24, but was victorious following a winter layoff his 2003 season opener, in a six-furlong sprint over this course.

Waltzin' Storm was eighth in his lone start this year, a $100,000 optional claimer at Gulfstream. He started only twice in 2003 but was solid here in the summer of 2002, when he won several allowance races, and was second in the Grade 3 Play the King Handicap.