08/29/2002 12:00AM

Onslaught right in stride

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Will the third time be a charm?

Trainer Jedd Josephson certainly hopes so as he sends out Onslaught for Saturday's $60,000-added Mae De Vol Sprint at six furlongs at Bay Meadows.

The race will be Onslaught's third of 2002 after missing more than a year with an injury, the nature of which Josephson wouldn't reveal, that nearly forced her retirement.

After running third behind Slewsbox in the Woodside Handicap on May 5, 2001, Onslaught didn't run again until this July 13 in the Vacaville Handicap at Vallejo.

"There wasn't really anything different about her," Josephson said of the 5-year-old mare. "She was pretty much the same filly she was. She goes out and does what you ask."

Her third start of the year will also be her third race against Channing Way, who comes into Saturday's race for fillies and mares off game victories in the Vacaville and the Elie Destruel at Santa Rosa. Hadl, who also ran in both of those stakes; More Mascara, fourth in the Elie Destruel; and comebackers Bigboystoy and Bullish Miss are also entered.

Onslaught ran fourth in the Vacaville, beaten two lengths as Channing Way and Hadl went head and head the whole way, with Channing Way winning by a neck.

The fourth-place finish was the first time Onslaught had finished off the board sprinting. Her only other off-the-board finish came when she finished ninth after setting the pace in a 1 1/16-mile turf race, her only attempt to go a route.

Channing Way and Hadl hooked up again in the Elie Destruel, but when Hadl faded in the stretch, Onslaught made a big move before falling a neck short of Channing Way.

"She's done just fine being off that long," Josephson said. "She came back and ran so-so, but she really ran well in her last race."

One axiom of handicapping is that horses usually turn in strong performances in their third race after a layoff. Josephson hopes that's true, but he approaches the race with a hint of caution.

"I don't know if she'll be improved the third time out," he said. "She ran big last time, so she may bounce."

Not that Josephson expects her to bounce.

"She's trained forwardly," he said of a 36.40 three-furlong work that was second best of 11 on Aug. 16 and a 48.20 half-mile drill on Aug. 24, "and she's put her weight back on."