05/24/2004 11:00PM

Stage Shy far from flop now

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Stage Shy showed just enough ability in Europe that after she won only once in four starts merciless observers could accurately label her a well-bred flop. A full sister to multi-talented Grade 1 winner Geri, Stage Shy was supposed to be something more than a mere maiden race winner.

Trainer John Gosden finally recommended she be sent to Neil Drysdale in the United States. There was little to lose - in three of four starts overseas, Stage Shy finished last or next to last. It could not get much worse. But it could get a lot better. And it did.

Gosden was right. Stage Shy improved for Drysdale. "I think she likes the routine," Drysdale said.

roared to victory in her Jan. 29 U.S. debut, and followed with another outstanding victory in a two- other-than allowance March 31. She won by four lengths, raced the final three-eighths in 34.60 seconds, and was so impressive that Drysdale nominated her to the Grade 1 Gamely. Instead, Stage Shy will take the conservative route in a three-other-than allowance Thursday at Hollywood Park.

Five other fillies and mares entered the 1 1/8-mile race, some with resumes more complete than Stage Shy's allowance credentials. But none of the others has shown a turn of foot quite as dazzling, and when rider Kent Desormeaux, newly named to the Hall of Fame, pulls the trigger on Stage Shy in race 7, it could be fun to watch. Stage Shy's prey includes stakes winners Star Vega and Notting Hill, stakes-placed Kirtle, Cat Alert, and longshot Cozie Advantage.

There are two knocks on Stage Shy. One, she has never raced on the hard Hollywood turf. That concern is eased by a series of workouts on the course, however. The second flaw is not her fault. It is simply that Stage Shy will offer limited wagering value. Stage Shy has been exposed as a potential "good thing." If the hype is deserved, Stage Shy should win Thursday. If the class hike proves insurmountable, anything goes.

stretches out from a pair of sprint races and could be the speed of the field under Tyler Baze. Star Vega drops out of a series of stakes races, and will appreciate easier company than the Grade 2 foes she met last time. Kirtle won nicely on this course April 29 in a similar spot.

As for Stage Shy, Drysdale was asked if she was something special. "I hope so, but it's too early to tell," he said. "I'll know at the end of the year."