03/12/2003 1:00AM

Old Hat top three meet again


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With undefeated champion Storm Flag Flying bypassing Friday's $100,000 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes, the Grade 3 race drew an evenly matched field of eight 3-year-old fillies.

House Party, Chimichurri, and Glorious Miss - the top three finishers from the Old Hat Stakes run here on Feb. 2 - top the field. Allowance winners City Fire, Fast Cookie, and Bella Lauren, as well as Final Round and Midnight Cry, add depth to the field.

The seven-furlong Forward Gal is the first leg of a three-race series sponsored by Robert McNair's Stonerside Stable that includes the $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont on April 10 at Keeneland and the $150,000 Stonerside Sprint on May 24 at Lone Star Park. If a filly wins all three races, her connections earn a $200,000 bonus.

Chimichurri, who won the Grade 3 Tempted at 2, finished second as the even-money favorite in the Old Hat, her first start off a three-month layoff. Trainer Todd Pletcher thought she might have been compromised in the Old Hat by breaking from the rail and perhaps making a premature move. "The way this track plays sometimes, you have a tendency to move sooner than you want to," Pletcher said. "All in all, I thought she ran a good race. If she'd drawn outside she would have been a lot tougher."

Chimichurri, who drew post 3 for the Forward Gal, conceded four pounds to House Party in the Old Hat. Friday, they will carry equal weight at 121 pounds.

House Party, a daughter of French Deputy, took advantage of a hot pace to rally from last to win the Old Hat. Her trainer, Allen Jerkens, said his filly doesn't have to be that far back.

"She's got a lot of speed - I was surprised she was that far back," Jerkens said. "You ask her to go in the morning, she will."

Showing support for his own series, Robert McNair has entered Fast Cookie from Stonerside Stable. She is coming off an entry-level allowance victory in which she displayed good early speed and a strong finishing kick under Jerry Bailey. She could be the one to catch here.

Final Round, winner of the off-the-turf Junior Champion Stakes last September at Monmouth, could be the value of the race. Final Round finished second to Perfect Story in a two-turn allowance race here on Feb. 5 and may appreciate the turn back to seven furlongs. Pat Day rides for trainer Rusty Arnold.

Midnight Cry, third in the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga, will be making her first start since running second in the Great State Challenge Juvenile Fillies in December.