07/10/2001 11:00PM

Worthy challengers

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Dave Cotey will be looking to pull off a couple of classic upsets at Woodbine over the next two weekends.

The 53-year-old Cotey, who has owned horses for 30 years but is in the midst of his first year as a trainer, will send out Stage Classic in Saturday's Toronto Cup and hopes to come back with Certainly Classic in the July 22 Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy.

Both Stage Classic and Certainly Classic are Kentucky-bred geldings owned by Dominion Bloodstock, which is Cotey's nom du course, in partnership with Derek Ball and Hugh Galbraith.

And both Stage Classic and Certainly Classic will have to get past formidable opponents from Sam-Son Farm, with Strut the Stage looming the odds-on choice in the Toronto Cup, and Quiet Resolve, Canada's reigning horse of the year and turf champion, on course for a shot at his second straight win in the Hong Kong Trophy.

Strut the Stage, with Todd Kabel aboard, will the 122-pound highweight in the Toronto Cup, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.

Stage Classic finished a troubled third under regular rider Constant Montpellier, beaten 8 1/4 lengths by the victorious Strut the Stage, when the two last saw action in the Charlie Barley over 1 1/16 miles of turf here June 24.

"He got hit so bad last time that Constant said he felt like a pinball machine around the turn," said Cotey.

Stage Classic also faced Strut the Stage here last year in the Summer, a one-mile turf stakes in which Strut the Stage ended third as the 2-5 choice.

Stage Classic, who had finished 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth, went on to finish third behind subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Macho Uno in the Grade 1 Grey and then was fourth in the Display before calling it a campaign.

But in his first start this season, an entry-level allowance over seven furlongs on the main track, Stage Classic finished a dull seventh.

"When we brought him over that day, he was absolutely covered in white lather," said Cotey. "The race was over for him before he left the paddock.

"And when we scoped him after, he was absolutely full of mucus."

Stage Classic's next effort was more representative, as he finished fourth when competing under the same terms. And he put it all together over 1 1/16 miles of turf here June 10, winning his first allowance at the direct expense Lucky Old Sun, the favorite owned by Sam-Son Farm.

While Cotey is well aware Stage Classic will have his work cut out in attempting to upstage Strut the Stage here Saturday, the owner-trainer is not about to run up the white flag.

"You're not going to beat Strut the Stage, probably," he said. "But my horse couldn't be coming into the race any better. He'll run a huge race." Cotey also notes that Stage Classic benefits from a seven-pound swing in the weights relative to the favorite, as he drops two pounds to carry 115 pounds.

'Certainly' different this time around

The early career of Certainly Classic followed a path similar to that of his younger stablemate's.

Certainly Classic was beaten a nose as the runner-up in the 1998 Summer and then scored the biggest win of his career in the Grey, which then was a Grade 3. He also ran in the following summer's Toronto Cup, finishing second in the second division of the race.

Now 5 years old, Certainly Classic would be making his second appearance in the Hong Kong Trophy after finishing a non-threatening eighth last year. But Cotey claims there were mitigating circumstances: Certainly Classic had missed training time because of a foot problem and remedial measures were not effective on race day.

"He's just a different horse this year," said Cotey. "He's 100 to 150 pounds heavier. He's a lot more relaxed, and doing very, very well."

Certainly Classic heads toward the Hong Kong Trophy off back-to-back second-place finishes and would receive nine pounds from Quiet Resolve, the 124-pound highweight.

Contributing to the spirit of the occasion, Cotey has enlisted Douglas Whyte, champion rider in Hong Kong last season, for the ride on Certainly Classic. The horse's pilot last year was Robert Fradd, who also was here as a visiting representative of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

* Poetically, second in Fort Erie's Bison City in her last start July 1, worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 on the training track here Wednesday morning. Roger Attfield, who trains Poetically for the Kinghaven Farm of David Willmot, said the filly will make her next appearance in either the July 21 Delaware Oaks or the July 28 Monmouth Oaks.

* Sports Flashy, winner of the $101,500 Rainbow Connection at Fort Erie on Tuesday, should make her next start in the Grade 3 $125,000 Royal North here Aug. 4. Owned by Bradscot Farm and trained by Earl Barnett, Sports Flashy was clocked in 57.39 seconds to equal the course record for five furlongs of turf in the first running of the stakes for Ontario-sired fillies and mares.