02/24/2004 12:00AM

Which 'Flag' will be displayed?


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Brilliant at 2, a bust at 3, begins writing the next chapter of her star-crossed career Thursday when she makes her 4-year-old debut in a $46,000 classified allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Thursday's mile-and-70-yard allowance race, which drew a field of seven, will be Storm Flag Flying's first start since June 6, when she finished sixth of seven in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park. It was one of just two starts Storm Flag Flying made at 3, after going 4 for 4 and earning an Eclipse Award at 2. Storm Flag Flying capped that season with a dramatic half-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies after having been passed in midstretch.

Following the Acorn, Storm Flag Flying was diagnosed with a hairline fracture to a hind leg. "It was more like a bruise that could've led to a fracture,'' trainer Shug McGaughey said. "Then, coming off that, she developed muscle damage in her hips.''

It would have been easy to retire Storm Flag Flying, an impeccably bred daughter of Storm Cat out of the mare My Flag. But McGaughey and owner Ogden Mills Phipps wanted to give her an opportunity to shine again.

"I just thought that with time, if she came back right, she could be pretty formidable,'' McGaughey said.

McGaughey said he has been happy with the way Storm Flag Flying has trained at Palm Beach Downs. McGaughey was planning to start Storm Flag Flying back at seven furlongs last Sunday, but that race didn't fill. Running a two-turn race against seasoned older horses for Storm Flag Flying's first start in eight months was not what McGaughey had in mind.

"I don't want to, but I don't have any options,'' McGaughey said. "I think she'll be okay. The one thing we'll know is if we're in the ballgame or not.''

McGaughey hopes to use this race as a stepping-stone to a possible start in the Rampart Handicap here on March 14.

Storm Flag Flying will break from the outside post in the seven-horse field. She figures to get good position outside probable pacesetter Doc's Doll, who breaks from the rail.

Redoubled Miss and Artist Johanna could be the potential upsetters. Redoubled Miss won the Stage Door Betty Handicap at Calder two starts back and finished fourth in the Sunshine Millions Distaff last out.

Artist Johanna, an Argentine-bred, went 2 for 6 in North America last year, and has been training superbly for trainer Frank Alexander. Edgar Prado rides.