12/03/2002 1:00AM

Sherry Spinner in prime spot

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NEW ORLEANS - The way Sherry Spinner ran in her first two American starts, it's surprising she remains eligible for a second-level allowance race. By the time Fair Grounds's ninth race ends Thursday, that matter should be righted.

Sherry Spinner turns back in distance from routes to a turf sprint, and since her last race around one turn produced a close second-place finish to the stakes-class filly My Girl Lisa, Sherry Spinner has every right to beat a full field of 11 opponents Thursday.

"If she runs back to the race she ran off a layoff, she should win," said her trainer, Wayne Catalano.

That was a Sept. 14 start at Arlington, in which Sherry Spinner opened a big early lead before My Girl Lisa tagged her in deep stretch. The race counts as a loss, but it was a loss with merit. Sherry Spinner hadn't started in nine months since an impressive turf win at Calder, and after breaking a step behind the field at Arlington, Sherry Spinner's rider sent her through a hole along the fence to set a sizzling pace.

In the end it caught up with her, but the fact that My Girl Lisa returned to win two stakes shows how well Sherry Spinner raced in defeat.

Things have gone awry since then. Sherry Spinner didn't really kick in when she was defeated as the favorite in a one-mile turf race Oct. 11 at Arlington, and she was dull early last month at Hawthorne, checking in a fading sixth in a field of 10.

"I haven't been able to find anything that was making her shut down," Catalano said.

The return to a sprint race should help Sherry Spinner finish better this time. "Going short she should show speed and stalk them," said Catalano. "She's training real well again now, like when she ran that big race."

Sherry Spinner's chances hinge on the race remaining on turf, but there is rain in the New Orleans forecast. A move to the main track would benefit horses like Punching and Brown Eyed Beauty.

Punching has won 2 of 4 starts in her career, while Brown Eyed Beauty brought a big reputation into the Oaklawn meet last year.

Odds-on in the $50,000 Dixie Belle in January, Brown Eyed Beauty was fourth in that race and lost again at Oaklawn before an easy victory near the end of that meet. Brown Eyed Beauty hasn't raced since May 24 and makes her first start for trainer Hal Wiggins.

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