01/16/2003 12:00AM

Shug's star filly slowly gets in shape

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Storm Flag Flying, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, got to really stretch her legs for the first time this winter when she breezed an easy three furlongs at Payson Park on Thursday morning.

"She went an easy three-eighths at barely faster than a two-minute lick," said trainer Shug McGaughey, who made the 1 1/2-hour drive to Payson from his Gulfstream Park base to oversee the work. "I'll probably let her do the same thing two or three more times and then bring her to Gulfstream to continue training here, although she's doing so well at Payson it makes me hesitate a little moving her down here."

Storm Flag Flying turned in perhaps the gamest performance on Breeders' Cup Day when she reasserted herself after being headed by Composure at midstretch for a half-length victory that completed a perfect 2-year-old campaign. The Breeders' Cup win followed easy victories in the Grade 1 Frizette and Matron stakes and should clinch an Eclipse Award for Storm Flag Flying.

"I'll play it by ear and see how she's doing before sitting down to figure out what direction we'll take with her to start out the season," said McGaughey. He mentioned one option would be the seven-furlong, Grade 3 Forward Gal here on March 14.

McGaughey is also looking forward to getting Saarland back into action.

Saarland concluded his injury-plagued 3-year-old season winning a second-level allowance race going a mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 15 but has been nursing a sore foot since that outing. He showed his readiness to return to the races by working a half-mile in 47.80 seconds here on Wednesday.

"He grabbed a quarter when he won in New York and is still in the process of healing," said McGaughey. "He's still training with the bar shoe on."

Saarland missed more than six months after suffering a chip in his left front ankle following his 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The chip was surgically removed.

"Right now I'm hoping to get an allowance race for him and then if all goes well, run him in the Donn Handicap," said McGaughey.

The Grade 1 Donn will be run on Feb. 22.

Coa has hot hand and New York dream

For the third straight winter, jockey Eibar Coa is off to a fast start at this meeting, and this year he's determined not to let anything stop him from maintaining that momentum throughout the entire session.

Coa jumped out to a quick lead in the standings after the opening two weeks of the 2001 meet before being forced to the sidelines when he broke his collarbone in a spill.

Last winter he was in third place when he was handed a controversial 30-day suspension by the stewards for "extremely rough riding" in the Ft. Lauderdale Handicap that was ultimately reduced to 15 racing days.

Coa is once again atop the standings after the opening nine days of the current meet with 14 winners entering Thursday's program. That puts him two ahead of runner-up Jose Santos.

"This year I'm riding very carefully trying to avoid anything that might get me into trouble," Coa said while relaxing between races on Thursday. "I know if I can stay healthy, avoid getting days, and keep working hard I have a shot to win the title."

Coa said he is hoping to use this meet as a springboard to moving his tack to New York on a permanent basis later this year.

"I've thought about moving to New York a couple of times but have held back," said Coa. "This is the meet I need to convince myself I can go straight to New York If I have a good meet and my business is strong coming out of here then I'll go to New York this spring instead of to New Jersey."

Coa was leading rider at Monmouth Park each of the past two summers.

"I'm starting to ride for a lot of the New York trainers but I'm not riding their best horses yet and that's a big goal of mine," said Coa. "I have a lot of business but not a lot of the top, top horses. That's why I need and want to be in New York."

Casse has high respect for Husbands

Seemingly every year along the Kentucky Derby trail, the big fish swallow the smaller ones.

As the Derby draws nearer, highly accomplished jockeys such as Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, and Pat Day invariably are able to take away mounts on coveted prospects from lesser-known colleagues. There are innumerable examples of this happening, such as last year, when Bailey replaced Tony D'Amico on Repent for the Louisiana Derby, and Edgar Prado replaced D'Amico on Harlan's Holiday for the Florida Derby.

Surely the same sort of thing will occur again this year - but it's highly unlikely to happen with the rider of Added Edge, assuming the colt continues along the Derby trail following the Holy Bull Stakes on Saturday. Added Edge has been ridden in every start by Patrick Husbands, who has emerged as a Canadian superstar but is not very well known in the United States.

"Patrick is a great, great rider," said Mark Casse, who trains Added Edge for Robert Wilson and Team Valor. "He just won the Sovereign Award [for top jockey in Canada] for the fourth straight year, and that's never happened before. I'm very comfortable with him."

Casse said he has discussed keeping Husbands as the regular rider for Added Edge with Team Valor president Barry Irwin. Team Valor owns a two-thirds interest in the colt.

"Barry said he has no problem with Patrick staying on the horse," said Casse.

Casse and Husbands were the respective leading trainer and jockey last year at Woodbine near Toronto. For good measure, they teamed to win two races Wednesday at Gulfstream and another one Thursday.

McPeek's classic candidates

Ken McPeek, who had Repent and Harlan's Holiday here last year, is not as strong this time around, but not for lack of numbers. He has two starters for the Holy Bull in Powerful Touch and Not for Profit, and has a third classics candidate, Ten Cents a Shine, waiting for the Feb. 15 Fountain of Youth.

"They're all where we want them," said McPeek. "Ten Cents a Shine is a really nice horse, but if one of the other two stepped up and won Saturday, then they'd have a leg up. It's a nice situation to be in."

Coincidentally, Ten Cents a Shine is an Ohio-bred - just like Harlan's Holiday, who wound up winning the Florida Derby before being beaten as the 6-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

No prop betting on Millions

If voting on Daily Racing Form's website means anything, then public opinion on whether California or Florida horses will win the eight-race Sunshine Millions competition next Saturday is a virtual toss-up.

After some 2,500 votes, the DRF poll had California-breds favored by a 51-49 margin over Florida-breds. Such a tight match seemingly would lend itself to some sort of proposition bet.

Yet as of Thursday afternoon, officials at Magna Entertainment Corp. said they had scrapped a prop bet tying the eight races together. A "pick eight" that would have required selecting California or Florida in each of the races was in the works but was scrapped, apparently because of the considerable red tape involving approval from regulatory agencies in both states and software complications from totalizator companies, according to one Gulfstream official.

A head-to-head bet, such as the 10-percent-takeout bets that were offered at the 2002 Breeders' Cup, was not seriously considered, said the official.

In a similar vein, a prop bet that had been scheduled last month at the Great State Challenge at Sam Houston Park was canceled when it became apparent that Kentucky-breds would be an overwhelming favorite over horses from other state breeding programs.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee