05/02/2006 11:00PM

'Oonagh' comes off huge win


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Officially, Oonagh Maccool was a 2 1/2-length winner of the Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream Park March 25, running approximately .40 of a second faster than Sweet Symphony, the runner-up.

Those that watched the race, including Gulfstream announcer Vic Stauffer, saw it differently. After blowing the start and getting boxed in traffic for much of the race, Oonagh Maccool entered the stretch, and as Stauffer announced, "If she wins she's a half an hour the best."

By any measure, Oonagh Maccool won with a troubled trip that would have defeated most horses, hinting of a bright future in the older filly and mare ranks.

Her next test comes Friday at Churchill Downs in the Grade 2, $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race on the Kentucky Derby undercard that also attracted graded winners Capeside Lady, Leave Me Alone, In the Gold, La Reason, and Sweet Symphony.

Despite the strength and accomplishments of her opponents, Oonagh Maccool figures to start as the favorite. Two for two in Britain prior to coming to the United States, she has since won 2 of 3 starts in the U.S., with her lone defeat coming on turf in her U.S. debut.

Rafael Bejarano, who rode her in the Rampart, has the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Charles Wacker III.

Sweet Symphony, making her second start of the year after being freshened following a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, again looks like a contender. Winner of the Grade 1 Alabama last year, she appears more effective rating farther off the pace than she did in the Rampart, when she raced just off slow fractions.

Provided the field remains intact, the Louisville fractions should be livelier. Leave Me Alone won the Grade 1 Test going seven furlongs in wire-to-wire fashion last year, and Capeside Lady, Oonagh Maccool, and Private Gift also race forwardly.

Leave Me Alone, cross entered in Saturday's seven-furlong Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, is more likely to race in the Louisville, trainer Eric Kruljac said. He said his filly can run effectively short or long, and plans to watch the weather before making a decision.

"I think she'd love a sloppy, wet-fast kind of track," he said. "I don't know about a drying-out, deeper track."