Purists loved watching the Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park today, as a champion filly made her return to competition against tough opposition.

But the race was a sort that horseplayers loathe, which breeds cynicism and distrust of the game.

The best horse in $35,000 event was Heavenly Cause, who won last year's 2-year-old filly championship, but there was some question whether she would be ready to win her first race after a three-month layoff. Here principal challenger was Dame Mysterieuse, a crack sprinter in sharp condition. The third-best horse in the field seemed to be De La Rose, who was also returning to action after a layoff.

All three of these fillies were trained by the same man, Woody Stephens. And Because of the "split-entry rule" that has stimulated controversy in Florida and elsewhere, the three of them went tot he post as separate betting interests. Stephens was in a position to know or to dictate the winner of the race, and -- if he were a betting man -- to collect $5.60 for $2 when Dame Mysterieuse upset the champion.

Dame Mysterieuse had run brilliantly fast in two starts at Gulf-stream, but had resembled a one-dimensional speedball. As she attempted to go sever furlongs for the first time today, she demonstrated her tractability. Jockey Jean-Luc Samyn restrained her just behind pacesetter Hidden Streak for half-mile, while Heavenly Cause moved within striking distance on the rail.

Dame Mysterieuse put away the leader and surged to a clear lead on the turn, and was never seriously threatened in the stretch as she covered the seven furlongs in 1:22 1/5. She scored by 1 1/4 lengths over Heavenly Cause, whose stretch rally was insufficient. Master's Dream was third and the other Stephens entrant, De La Rose, was fourth.

Stephens was slightly disappointed by the result. "I wanted to be one-two-three," he said.