03/27/2008 12:00AM

Sugar Swirl faces stiff test


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Heavy rain that forced the cancellation of the second half of last Saturday's card, including the $200,000 Shirley Jones Handicap, may have only postponed the inevitable for Sugar Swirl's five rivals when the Grade 2 dash for fillies and mares is finally decided as the fifth race on Saturday's Florida Derby Day program.

Sugar Swirl, who carries high weight of 124 pounds in the seven-furlong Shirley Jones, has dominated her division here this winter with easy victories in the Grade 3 First Lady and Hurricane Bertie handicaps. And trainer Bryan Lynch believes the extra week she received due to last Saturday's postponement should only work to her advantage.

"She's better the more time she has between races," said Lynch, who trains Sugar Swirl for the Stronach Stables. "She's training better now than before her last two races. I can't wait to run her on Saturday."

The only drawback the cancellation might have created for Sugar Swirl came when the race was re-drawn Wednesday and she was assigned post position 2. Sugar Swirl would have broken from the extreme outside if the Shirley Jones had gone as scheduled the previous weekend.

"I was looking forward to getting a nice clean trip from the outside last week," said Lynch. "The one thing you don't want is for her to get stopped and have to get started again carrying all that weight."

Regular rider Javier Castellano will again have the assignment of keeping Sugar Swirl in the clear, as he did so adeptly in the First Lady and Hurricane Bertie.

Sugar Swirl will be facing her stiffest competition this winter in the Shirley Jones with the Grade 1 stakes-placed duo of Shaggy Mane and Baroness Thatcher in the lineup.

Shaggy Mane was transferred to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.'s barn following her fifth-place finish in defense of her Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint title in January. She had run the best race of her career a year earlier, leading throughout in a 7 3/4-length victory - for which she received a 109 Beyer Speed Figure - in the 2007 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint.

Baroness Thatcher closed out a stellar 3-year-old campaign finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She'll attempt to rebound from a disappointing fourth-place finish as the 1-2 favorite under second-level allowance conditions here on Feb. 27.

Palm Beach: Clement holds hot hand

Trainer Christophe Clement may have the upper hand when he sends out the uncoupled pair of Sporting Art and Flying Dismount in the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Sporting Art appears to be the stronger of the pair. Sporting Art was beaten a neck by Run Sully Run in his U.S. debut here on Feb. 20, his first start since finishing fourth in a listed stakes in England in September.

Flying Dismount has a pair of easy turf victories at Tampa Bay Downs after switching to Clement's barn in the fall, but will get tested for class while making his stakes debut in the Palm Beach.

Other top contenders include Titan of Industry, Moral Compass, Wise Answer, and Run Sully Run.

Forever Whirl: Electrify stands out

Electrify figures to go off as a heavy favorite against eight other Florida-breds in the $75,000 Forever Whirl overnight stakes at 1 1/8 miles. Electrify won 4 of his last 5 starts, all stakes to close out his 2007 campaign but was overmatched in his 2008 debut in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita.

Imawildandcrazyguy - second and third, respectively, behind Electrify in the Carl Rose Classic and Fred Hooper handicaps to close out his 3-year-old campaign - is among the key contenders, along with Better Than Bonds.