03/25/2006 1:00AM

Oonagh Maccool recovers to win

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EQUI-PHOTO
Oonagh Maccool, with Rafael Bejarano riding, takes the Rampart Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The complexion of Saturday's $200,000 at Gulfstream Park changed when the gates opened and projected pacesetter Oonagh Maccool broke several lengths behind the field. But the trouble at the break obviously had little effect on the outcome of the race. After Oonagh Maccool recovered from her tardy beginning, she registered an impressive 2 1/2-length victory over Sweet Symphony in the Grade 2 event for older fillies and mares.

"On paper it looked like she was the only speed in the race, and the plan was to take her to the front," said Anthony Sciametta, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "Obviously when she broke slow those plans changed, but once she pulled out for the drive you saw what she had."

Jockey Rafael Bejarano did not panic following Oonagh Maccool's slow start and was content to rate her off the early pace of Classy Charm. Bejarano kept Oonagh Maccool along the inside until approaching the stretch, where he angled her out three wide to launch her bid. She easily ran down Sweet Symphony, pulling away in the final furlong.

Sweet Symphony, a Grade 1 winner last season but making her first start since the Breeders' Cup Distaff, raced in perfect position just behind Classy Charm, took control into the stretch, but proved no match for the winner. It was another seven lengths further back to the tiring Classy Charm in third.

The win was the second in as many starts since Pletcher switched Oonagh Maccool, an Irish-bred daughter of Giant's Causeway, to the main track here earlier in the meet. Despite a lack of graded stakes experience and the presence of Grade 1 winner Sweet Symphony in the field, Oonagh Maccool went off the even-money favorite and paid $4.20. Final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:49.99 over a fast track.

The win was the third of four in a row for Bejarano, second-leading rider at the meet behind John Velazquez.

"She just hopped up at the start," said Bejarano, who was aboard Oonagh Maccool for the first time in the Rampart. "When Sweet Symphony moved at the half-mile pole, I followed, and when I came out at the quarter pole Oonagh Maccool was coming really strong. She was flying."