01/09/2004 1:00AM

Bailey the difference-maker in Donn


PHOENIX - Random notes on a program:

I see Congaree may make his 2004 debut against Medaglia d'Oro in Gulfstream's Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 7. As much as I love Congaree, I don't think he stands a chance. It has nothing to do with his talent; it's because of Jerry Bailey.

Bailey, who has ridden both, is expected to stick with Medaglia d'Oro, and is there any other jock who knows Congaree better than Bailey? Is there anyone around who knows better than Jerry what it takes to beat Congaree? Remember the BC Classic? Bailey had Medaglia d'Oro on Congaree's hip from the get-go. No one knows better than Bailey that he cannot let Congaree clear away up front. If he allows that he's running for second.

Being that well acquainted with the opposition gives Bailey all the advantages, and may spell doom again for Congaree.

What about the Derby, Bob?

I saw an interesting quote from Bob Baffert the other day. He was discussing a number of horses that he was pointing for the Sunshine Millions a couple of weeks hence at Santa Anita and Gulfstream: "We're going to hit the Sunshine Millions big time. We're focusing on the big three this year - the Sunshine Millions, Dubai World Cup, and Breeders' Cup."

Does it strike you as a bit odd that the man who has been so involved with the Triple Crown the past decade made no mention of the Kentucky Derby? Does it mean he doesn't believe he has the necessary ammunition to attack the classics this year?

Eclipse debates getting out of hand

It's rather shocking to me that a mere vote has caused polarization among racing fans. I sometimes stick my feet into the horseracing chatroom waters, and while you may question my sanity for doing so, it's useful to see what fans are discussing.

It's alarming to me how strident the reactions are to the 3-year-old Eclipse picture. There are many fans who make legitimate, sharp arguments. Then there are those who seem to cry out from the shadows, actually saying they hate one horse or the other.

There are those decrying Funny Cide's misadventures after his strong Triple Crown run, and those who hate Empire Maker because they think his ears are too big, or that too much was made of him by the media because of his pedigree and connections. Then there are the personal attacks aimed at trainers Bobby Frankel and Barclay Tagg.

Isn't it enough to have these two fine animals and simply enjoy them? Sure, Empire Maker did not turn into a great horse. He doesn't get any demerits for that. Yes, Funny Cide failed to be Secretariat and lost some of his glitter the last half of the year, but you can't take his Derby and Preakness away from him - and finishing third in the Belmont is hardly a black eye. There are only a handful of great horses, which is why we revel in their presence when they do surface. We don't get to have them every year.

By the way, for my two cents worth, I voted for Funny Cide.

Watch out, Halfbridled

After watching the West Coast 3-year-old fillies the past couple of months I'm not so sure Halfbridled has a hammerlock on the division.

Hollywood Story and Rahy Dolly were a huge one-two in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet and appear to be on the upswing. A.P. Adventure looked sensational winning the Grade 2 Santa Ysabel last week. Silent Sighs can flat fly, although she may be best around one turn. Yearly Report has hinted at major ability and figures to flourish when she gets to route. House of Fortune is no slouch. And giving up on Victory U. S. A., who finished third to Halfbridled in the BC Juvenile Fillies, wouldn't be prudent.

Toss in Frankel's promising turf maiden winner Miss Coronado, who Frankel says may get a crack at dirt down the road, and comebacking Class Above, and all the signs are there: This division is going to be a blast.