02/16/2008 12:00AM

Sugar Swirl's new style gives her edge

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Bob Coglianese/NYRA
Sugar Swirl rallies to victory in last month's First Lady in the slop.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - As a younger horse, Sugar Swirl used her pure speed to win the majority of her races. Now 5, Sugar Swirl has matured and learned to rate, a combination that should make her a more formidable foe in contests like Sunday's $100,000 Hurricane Bertie Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Sugar Swirl rallied from near the rear of the pack to post a 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 First Lady going six furlongs over a sloppy track earlier in the meet. She will stretch to seven furlongs and pick up an additional two pounds, carrying high weight of 121 pounds, when she faces seven rivals in the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie.

"I couldn't be happier the way she's trained since her last start," said Brian Lynch, who trains Sugar Swirl for the Stronach Stables. "She made me a little nervous sitting back as far as she was in the First Lady, but needless to say I was happy with the end result."

Lynch says learning to harness her speed should make Sugar Swirl more effective going seven furlongs and beyond. "I actually think her best distance may be seven furlongs," said Lynch, "especially now that she can stalk and punch. Her form is really good right now. The challenge is to maintain it."

Jockey Javier Castellano had a tough decision on his hands coming into the Hurricane Bertie. Castellano guided Sugar Swirl to victory in the First Lady and is also the regular rider for Lady Marlboro, who dead-heated for the win with Golden Velvet in the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap earlier in the session.

Castellano ultimately opted to remain with Sugar Swirl, allowing leading rider Eibar Coa to pick up the mount on Lady Marlboro. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Lady Marlboro was dead game from tight quarters along the rail in the one-mile Sabin.

Cher Ami figures to set the pace as she attempts to rebound from a disappointing performance over Santa Anita's synthetic track in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint. Cher Ami had won 5 of her previous 6 starts, all stakes, over conventional dirt, including Calder's seven-furlong Chaposa Springs Handicap by nearly six lengths in her 2007 finale.

Silver Knockers, a tiring fourth in the Sabin, will wear blinkers for the first time in the Hurricane Bertie. Silver Knockers has already won twice over the local strip and is Grade 1 stakes-placed, having finished third in the Prioress at 3.