01/12/2002 1:00AM

Rice confident August Storm is up to challenge


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It was not trainer Linda Rice's intention to run her multiple-stakes winning filly August Storm against males in her 3-year-old debut. But when the Tropical Oaks was moved to the dirt and an allowance race did not fill, Monday's $65,000 Dave Feldman Stakes at Gulfstream Park was Rice's only viable option if she was to make the Herecomesthebride Stakes here on Feb. 3.

The Dave Feldman - named for the veteran Chicago Sun-Times turf writer who died in April - tops an eight-race card as Gulfstream Park's trouble filling races continued. Nine races had been scheduled to be run.

After entering August Storm against 10 males in the Dave Feldman, Rice expressed confidence her filly will be up for the challenge.

"I think she probably has as much or more turf experience than most of the colts I saw on the nomination sheet, so that's in her favor," Rice said Saturday from her office at Belmont Park.

"I would prefer to be racing against her own sex, but this was the only option we had. I think she has shown enough of her own brilliance and talent to where she'd be okay."

Unfortunately, August Storm drew the outside post in the 11-horse field that will contest 1 1/16 miles out of the turf chute. Fortunately, she will have Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey on her back.

After finishing fifth in her debut on dirt at Saratoga, August Storm has won three consecutive ungraded stakes on turf, ranging in distance from five furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. She has shown the ability to win from on or just off the pace.

The horse to beat in the race may be Honor in War from the barn of Paul McGee. A son of Lord at War, Honor in War has won his last two starts, including a gutsy neck victory in a conditioned allowance race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 15. In that race, Honor in War had to circle six-wide and run down the stakes-winning Rylstone.

"He had a pretty rough trip," McGee said. "He was bottled up all the way around there, and he showed a lot of grit to run like he did. The horse he beat was coming off a stakes win at Arlington. To beat him showed a lot."

Though he has been off for two months, Honor in War has been training steadily at Gulfstream, and McGee does not expect his horse to need a race.

Other contenders in the Dave Feldman include Emergency Status, Lord Juban, Mountain Forum and Charming Colony.