10/16/2003 11:00PM

Mulligan the Great vs. Forever Grand

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mulligan the Great and Forever Grand head Sunday's $161,250 Highlander Handicap, an exciting supporting feature on Canadian International Day.

The six-furlong sprint may have Sovereign Award implications for Mulligan the Great and Forever Grand, who should both end up as finalists for champion sprinter, along with Atto Mile runner-up Soaring Free.

Mulligan the Great has won 4 of 7 starts this year, including victories in the Overskate Stakes and Bold Venture Handicap. He earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 103 two starts ago in the six-furlong Kenora Stakes, but settled for a second-place finish to Forever Grand.

Trainer Cliff Hopmans Jr. said he also considered Saturday's Bunty Lawless Stakes on the grass for Mulligan the Great, who will drop seven pounds off his last race.

"It was a very easy choice when I saw him in at 115 pounds," said Hopmans. "He's been carrying a lot of weight all year, and is finally getting a bit of a break."

Hopmans also considers the Highlander to be a more important race: "It's worth more money, and it's graded. He's run against these horses all year, and has beaten most of them, and some of them have beaten him."

Forever Grand, a two-turn specialist in 2002, has evolved into a serious come-from-behind sprinter this year, during which he has won three stakes. Trained by Bob Tiller, he received a 106 Beyer in the Kenora, in which he rallied from far back to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Tiller also entered Canada's champion 2-year-old of 2001, Rare Friends, who was softened up from chasing a hot pace in the Kenora and ran last in the six-horse field. Rare Friends led throughout in two stakes earlier this year, the July 1 Parnitha at Fort Erie and the Jacques Cartier here in April.

"We had a little problem with Rare Friends this week, but he's gotten over it," Tiller said. "He's the speed, and [Forever Grand] will come from out of it. They're both in good order. If Forever Grand wins, I think he'll be top sprinter."

Also entered in the Grade 3 Highlander are Wild Whiskey, Krz Ruckus, and Sophia's Prince.

Wild Whiskey faded to third after setting the fractions in the Kenora, and figures to lead the way again.

Krz Ruckus won the Briartic Handicap on the opening day of the meeting, but hasn't won since.

Sophia's Prince has won two recent preliminary allowances, and was a close second to Mulligan the Great in the Overskate.