02/03/2003 12:00AM

No easy return for Cozy Island

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Last summer, just as she was starting to make strides toward becoming a consistent, graded stakes runner, Cozy Island went to the sidelines with an injury. Given plenty of time to heal, the 5-year-old mare will make her first start in more than seven months in Wednesday's featured ninth race at Gulfstream Park.

The midweek feature, a 1 1/16-mile grass race for older fillies and mares, came up quite strong. In addition to Cozy Island, who has placed in two graded stakes races, the field includes Alternate, a stakes winner who has not raced since going off the favorite in the Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park, and Clefairy, an import from Christophe Clement's barn who twice won listed stakes in Italy.

Cozy Island was second in the Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs last May, then was fourth to the high-class Voodoo Dancer in the Locust Grove Handicap on June 22. That was her last start.

"She kind of pulled a suspensory a little bit," J.T. Sears, the assistant to Cozy Island's trainer, Akiko Gothard, said Monday morning at Gulfstream Park.

Cozy Island shows just three works coming into this race. Sears said that is accurate.

"She doesn't do as well on the dirt here as the turf," he said. "We've galloped her pretty hard, so we wouldn't have to work her that much on the dirt. So that work tab is a little deceptive."

Alternate, who was second in last summer's Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks, will be making her first start on turf. Her trainer, Graham Motion, said he attempted twice to put Alternate in an allowance race on dirt, but both times those races did not fill.

"This is the backup," Motion said. "It's a place to get started."

In her last start, the Cotillion, Alternate finished a little more than five lengths behind Smok'n Frolic, who subsequently won the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita.

Alternate is by Seattle Slew, and out of a Green Dancer mare, giving Motion hope that she will not be compromised by moving to the turf.

"Her female side indicates she can handle it," Motion said. "But I wouldn't mind if it rained."

Clefairy was well beaten in her lone previous start in this country, last summer's Lake Placid Handicap at Saratoga. This is her first start for Clement. She also gets Lasix, and Jerry Bailey will ride.

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