08/15/2004 11:00PM

Past stars may be risky at present


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Stakes winners Mr. Epperson and Puffer are among the 13 runners in Wednesday's Woodbine feature, an $80,000 optional claimer, but they aren't necessarily the ones to beat in the seven-furlong turf sprint.

Mr. Epperson, Canada's champion sprinter in 2001, had a productive 2003 campaign for trainer Scott Fairlie, hitting the board in 8 of 11 starts for earnings of $160,079.

The 9-year-old Mr. Epperson is winless in four outings this year, although he was only beaten three-quarters of a length when fourth at this level on the main track June 25. He has had a little break since an uncharacteristically dull performance against a tough field July 14, and has recorded two quick breezes this month.

Puffer captured the nine-furlong With Approval Handicap on the grass here last summer. He also won a second-level allowance at Keeneland in the fall, but is winless in six starts since then.

Puffer was sixth behind the likes of Slew Valley and Shoal Water in his next-to-last race, the Grade 3 Connaught Cup Stakes. Most recently, in a one-mile classified allowance, he ended up third after running rankly behind a slow pace on the backstretch.

Puffer is coupled in the Sam-Son Farm entry with Fly Smartly, who defeated $50,000 claimers going six furlongs in his last race on turf June 11. Leading rider Todd Kabel was named on both runners.

Sophia's Prince should be in the thick of things, regardless of whether the race is contested on turf or moved to the main track.

Sophia's Prince was sixth after a wide journey when he came off the sidelines in the restricted New Providence Stakes. He finished a neck back in second when trainer John LeBlanc Jr. tried him on the grass June 12, and posted an identical result two weeks later in another $80,000 optional claimer, this time on the main track.

Sophia's Prince raced four wide while trying to close against a speed bias last time in the restricted Overskate Stakes, and finished a respectable fourth. Krz Ruckus, who finished behind Sophia's Prince in the Overskate, returned to win Saturday's Shepperton Stakes.

Late-running P.J.'s Paulie Boy came from 13 lengths back to defeat $62,500 claimers going a mile in his latest, but shortening up a furlong will hinder his chances in this tougher spot.