03/24/2003 1:00AM

Upper hand to Petrina Above

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - For almost two years, Flying Birdie was the unquestioned leader of her division in south Florida in five-furlong races on turf or dirt. Then Petrina Above tried turf for the first time last summer at Calder.

Since that time Petrina Above and Flying Birdie have met five times, and Petrina Above holds a 4-1 edge in head-to-head battles. The two will square off again Wednesday in a $48,000 allowance race carded for five furlongs on Gulfstream Park's turf course.

Petrina Above rallied to defeat Flying Birdie in the Irish Vol and Wedding Jitter handicaps last season on Calder's turf course. Flying Birdie avenged those losses under similar conditions when the two launched their 2003 campaigns in Calder's Just a Little Kiss Handicap. Petrina Above bounced right back to catch Flying Birdie in the final jump of a five-furlong money allowance race decided over the main track here earlier in the meet.

"It's been a good rivalry," said Frank Carlisi, who trains Petrina Above for her owner-breeder Alfred Luccarelli. "My mare has been running like she never had before since I switched her to the turf last summer. Although, it was very heartening to see her run like she did last time on the dirt. Especially the way she came back to win after getting shuffled back to fifth around the turn over a track that doesn't favor closers."

Petrina Above, an 8-year-old daughter of Great Above, has earned $229,000 during her career, more than half of which has come in her six starts since being switched to the turf last summer.

Flying Birdie was unbeatable going five furlongs in 2001. She was not quite up to that standard last season, but was still a two-time stakes winner, earning more than $90,000 for the year. One of her victories came over the local turf course in the Marshua River Stakes.

"My mare is equally talented on turf or dirt," said trainer Happy Alter, who claimed Flying Birdie here two years ago for his Alter's Racing Stable. "And when she breaks alertly and opens up on the field it's hard to catch her."

The meet's two leading riders, Cornelio Velasquez and Eibar Coa, will also go head to head in Wednesday's feature. Velasquez is the regular jockey for Petrina Above and Coa has been aboard Flying Birdie in her last three starts.

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