03/02/2002 1:00AM

Northerly gets it done

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MELBOURNE, Australia - Australia's leading weight-for-age performer Northerly showed Saturday he's ready to defend his Australian Cup title with a come-from-behind victory in the Group 2 St. George Stakes over 1,800 meters at Caulfield racecourse.

Northerly appeared to face a mountain of a task early in the weight-for-age St. George Stakes when he was uncharacteristically far back along the rail. But at the top of the stretch, the leader, Dinmont, rolled away from the fence and presented clear sailing for Northerly, the 7-10 favorite.

Northerly took the lead within a matter of strides but looked beaten soon after when he was headed by fellow West Australian Old Comrade. But just as he did in Australia's championship weight-for-age race, the Group 1 Cox Plate at Moonee Valley last October, the 5-year-old Northerly re-rallied under the strong urging of Damien Oliver.

Old Comrade (9-1) yielded in the last 150 meters and finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length. The mare Piper Star (14-1) was a nose away in third.

Northerly ran the distance in 1:49.46 on a track rated good - but obviously a little soft - well off the track record of 1:47.19, set by Cent Home, who finished sixth Saturday.

Melbourne Cup winner Ethereal, also prepping for the Australian Cup, rallied to finish fifth.

Northerly, trained by former leading harness trainer-driver Fred Kersley, dropped from 2-1 to the 3-2 favorite with bookmakers for the March 11 Australian Cup. Old Comrade is at 3-1, and Ethereal and Ustinov, who finished fifth in the Group 2 Shannons Classic on the Caulfield undercard, are at 7-1.

In other Caulfield stakes Saturday:

* Don Eduardo continued his climb to the top with a victory over Royal Code in the Shannons, a race restricted for 3-year-olds, over 1,800 meters.

Don Eduardo, at odds of almost 6-1 under Oliver, posted his fourth consecutive win for trainer Lee Freedman when he ran down Royal Code to win by a short head in 1:49.45.

After the win, Don Eduardo dropped from 9-1 to 7-2 for the Group 1 Australian Derby at Randwick on March 30. He shares favoritism with Lonhro and Carnegie Express, who won the Group 1 Canterbury Guineas at Canterbury Park in Sydney on Saturday night.

Freedman said Don Eduardo will run next in the Rosehill Guineas over 2,000 meters on March 16. Don Eduardo, who cost $3.2 million (New Zealand) at auction, is a three-quarter brother by Zabeel to former Australian champion Octagonal.

* Dash for Cash overcame a bumping duel with eventual fourth-place finisher Desert Sky and a late lunge by Chattanooga to score his second consecutive Group 1 victory in the Futurity Stakes over 1,400 meters.

Dash for Cash is being pointed to the Group 1, $2.5 million (Australia) Doncaster Handicap over a mile at Randwick on March 30.

* In Canberra Saturday, the 6-5 favorite Planchet booked himself a start in the

$2.5 million (Australia) Golden Slipper Stakes, the world's richest race for 2-year-olds, at Rosehill on March 23 when he rallied to win the Group 3 Black Opal Stakes, over the Slipper distance of 1,200 meters.