06/04/2002 11:00PM

Time to get it together


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mulrainy has shown all the attributes of a stakes-winning filly but has yet to put them all together.

Now trainer Tom O'Keefe, who has watched Mulrainy finish no better than second and no worse than fourth in five stakes appearances, is hoping she can rise to the occasion in Saturday's Labatt Woodbine Oaks, a $500,000 race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

"I think we're still down to the three," said O'Keefe, identifying his filly as a leading contender along with Ginger Gold and Gonetofarr when a field of 10 was drawn for the 1 1/8 mile Oaks here Wednesday.

Mulrainy showed distance potential in two 1 1/16-mile outings at 2, finishing third in the Grade 1 Mazarine and second to Ginger Gold in the Princess Elizabeth.

Following the Princess Elizabeth, the filly went home to the nearby Wings of Erin Farm of her owner, Les Roberts, with the Oaks already high on her 2002 agenda.

"She didn't do that well on the farm for me," said O'Keefe. "I was disappointed, even though I wintered her myself.

"But since she's come back into the racetrack she's just gone straight uphill. She's carrying beautiful weight now."

Mulrainy returned sharply on April 21, capturing a first-level allowance at six furlongs, but then came a rather flat fourth behind Gonetofarr, Ginger Gold and Tacky Affair two weeks later in the seven-furlong Fury.

But Mulrainy bounced back in the 1 1/16-mile Selene, beaten a length for second money by Ginger Gold in the open Grade 1 race dominated by invader See How She Runs.

"The whole idea" of strategy in the Fury, said O'Keefe, was that he told jockey Chantal Sutherland "not to chase the speed. It turned out to be a speed-oriented racetrack.

"She got a little too far out of it, and couldn't get her interested again. In the Selene she let her be in contact with the speed.

"The filly's first two races weren't hard races on her. The Selene was a hard race, but she got a lot out of it."

Late start for Mulligan the Great

While the primary focus at Woodbine Saturday will be on the Oaks, the Victoria Park will be a very interesting sidelight.

The Victoria Park, an open 1 1/8 mile race for 3-year-olds, is not only a local stakes opportunity for American-breds but also positioned as a last stepping-stone for Canadian-breds hopeful of contesting the June 23 Queen's Plate.

But Mulligan the Great, one of the more intriguing entrants in the Victoria Park, does not fall into either category.

Mulligan the Great, owned by Charles Simmons and trained by John Cirillo, is an Ontario-bred but was not kept eligible for the Queen's Plate.

Yet Cirillo believes the gelding will have an impact on his division, perhaps as soon as Saturday.

"He's still developing," said Cirillo, "but he does everything right. He's a real nice horse to be around."

Mulligan the Great, purchased for $60,000 at the local select yearling sale, worked quickly here last spring but bucked his shins in the process and was given the year off.

After wintering at his owner's nearby farm, Mulligan the Great came back to the track in mid-February but did not surface in the entries until late April.

"I wanted to run him a little earlier, but I couldn't," said Cirillo. "He missed a lot of time, with bad weather."

The weather almost proved to be Mulligan the Great's greatest nemesis on the day of his debut, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special in which led all the way to win by 13 1/4 lengths under jockey Jim McKnight over a sloppy surface.

That race, the fifth of the program, turned out to be the last of the day, as the balance of the card was canceled.

"The day he ran, I didn't think there was a maiden on the grounds that could beat him," said Cirillo.

In that race, Cirillo said, Mulligan the Great "kept hitting himself. He cut himself up bad. I was lucky I had front bandages on him, or that could have been the end of him."

Three weeks later, Mulligan the Great stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and was a game three-quarter-length winner, again with a front-running performance.

"I think he'll go anywhere from five furlongs to a mile and a half," said Cirillo. I really believe that. "He doesn't have to be on the lead. He can come from 10 lengths out of it, if you want. He's a very easy horse to ride and rate."

Cirillo also believes Mulligan the Great will handle turf and has a long-term eye upon the Toronto Cup, a 1 1/8 mile grass race for 3-year-olds here July 13.

But for the moment there's the not-so-small hurdle of the Victoria Park, where Mulligan the Great's rivals will include the Kentucky-bred stakes winner Tails of the Crypt and the very promising Queen's Plate candidate Forever Grand.

"I wish he had another race under his belt," said Cirillo, "but I think he'll run real good. We have to find out what we've got."

* Jim Mazur and Jim Bannon will host a handicapping seminar beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on the second floor of the grandstand. The focus will be on Saturday's Belmont Stakes and the Woodbine Oaks. Those in attendance will be eligible to win an entry to this year's Thoroughbred Handicapping Challenge, a contest that will be held here Aug. 24 and Aug. 25.