02/03/2003 1:00AM

Bailey faced with happy dilemma


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jerry Bailey may be on a collision course with a tough decision after a lucrative weekend of stakes wins at Santa Anita.

Bailey, based in Florida at this time of year, won the two biggest races on the national calendar - Saturday's $400,000 Strub Stakes with Medaglia d'Oro and Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap with Congaree.

Both are prospects for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1 or the $6 million Dubai World Cup in the Middle East on March 29.

Ideally, Bailey would like to see one stay in the United States and one ship to the other side of the world. But as of the weekend, the connections of both colts were keeping their options open.

Trainers Bobby Frankel (Medaglia d'Oro) and Bob Baffert (Congaree) mentioned Dubai as a primary goal, but are keeping an eye on U.S. military involvement in the Persian Gulf.

"I need George W. to hold off for a while," Baffert said on Sunday of President Bush.

"I'm leaning toward the Dubai World Cup, but who knows what's going to go on with the war," Frankel said. "If that doesn't work out, maybe the Santa Anita Handicap."

Both horses ran exceptionally well. Medaglia d'Oro set the pace and won by seven lengths. Congaree stalked the pace to the final turn and pulled clear to score by 2 1/4 lengths, his third consecutive major stakes win.

While Medaglia d'Oro won at 1 1/4 miles in the 2002 Travers Stakes, Congaree has never won over the classic distance. Both the Dubai World Cup and Santa Anita Handicap are over 1 1/4 miles.

"A mile and a quarter is within his dimension, now that he can rate like that," Bailey said of Congaree.

There is a precedent for Bailey's situation. In 1998, Gary Stevens won the Strub aboard Silver Charm and the San Antonio aboard Gentlemen in a one-hour span.

Neither won the Big Cap. Stevens chose Silver Charm, but he was withdrawn the day before the race. They later teamed for a victory in the Dubai World Cup. Gentlemen finished last of four in the Big Cap under Pat Day.

Bailey played the diplomat on Sunday night. There was no reason for him to choose a side - at least not yet.

"These horses have a way of separating themselves," Bailey said. "These guys are first-class horsemen. They're going to wait to decide. They probably wouldn't say right now. They have to wait and see how the horses come out of it."

Elloluv, a longshot no more, in Las Virgenes

Elloluv, the winner of the Hollywood Starlet Stakes and Santa Ynez Stakes in the last two months, will attempt to win her third consecutive stakes in Sunday's $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes over a mile.

Trained by Craig Dollase, Elloluv pulled an upset at 30-1 in the Starlet, but was the 9-5 second choice when she won the Santa Ynez. In the Las Virgenes Stakes, she is likely to be the second choice behind Composure, who was second in the Starlet and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

On Monday at Hollywood Park, Elloluv worked five furlongs in 1:00.20. "She got a lot out of it, and I was happy with the drill," Dollase said.

Elloluv and Composure will not have many opponents. Favola, the winner of a minor handicap for sprinters in England last August, will be a longshot. She will making her first start on the main track in her U.S. debut. Maddie's Charm and Watching You will also start.

The Las Virgenes is the lone Grade 1 of the weekend, but there are two other important stakes - the $75,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds on Friday and Saturday's $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies.

The Sham Stakes is run over 1 1/8 miles and is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over. The probables include Empire Maker, Man Among Men, Pine for Java, Spensive, Storm Gulch, Ten Most Wanted, and Truckle Feature.

Empire Maker finished third in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last November and is the likely favorite. Bailey returns to California for the mount.

In the La Canada Stakes, Got Koko will be part of a short field in an attempt to sweep the three-race La Canada series for 4-year-old fillies. Having won the La Brea Stakes and El Encino Stakes at this meeting, Got Koko will be a short-priced favorite in the La Canada, which is run over 1 1/8 miles. The competition includes Bare Necessities, Bella Bellucci, and Revenate.

Johar out with injury

Johar, the winner of the Oak Tree and Hollywood derbies last year and the San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 20, is out of training with a stress fracture in a shoulder.

According to his trainer, Richard Mandella, the 4-year-old Johar will be based at a local farm for two months. The injury was detected after his victory in the San Marcos last month, his first start at 1 1/4 miles on turf and first start against older horses.

The injury was detected through a nuclear scan, Mandella said.

"He was sore last week, but we couldn't anything wrong with him. He has a slight stress fracture. It's not bad, but if we hadn't caught it could have been terrible. He'll need two months of. The good news is we can get him some races in the fall."

The Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 is a long-range hope for Johar.

Noches de Rosa gets a U.S. victory

After five disappointing races since August, Noches de Rosa returned to her South American form with a victory in the $81,100 Reloy Handicap last Friday. The same race turned out to be the final start of Viernes, who was later retired because of injury.

Noches de Rosa won the Group 1 Chilean Oaks in 2001, but failed to impress in her first six months in the United States, and lost in four stakes. Taking a drop in class and stretching out to 1 1/4 miles on turf in the Reloy, she rallied from third under Julie Krone to win by a length over Snowflake.

The win erased the frustration of fourth-place finishes in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes last October and an optional claimer on Jan 2.

Noches de Rosa will be pointed for the $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf, trainer Richard Mandella said.

"I'd like to do something in between," Mandella said. "She settled down for Julie. She ran professionally, like she did at Del Mar. She got mixed up when we moved to Oak Tree, and it's taken her a little time to settle down."

Viernes, the upset winner of the Waya Handicap at Hollywood Park in November, finished last of seven and was vanned off with a tendon injury, trainer Paulo Lobo said.

Viernes was a Group 3 winner in Brazil in 2001 and will be bred this year, Lobo said. No stallion arrangements have been finalized.

Gordy back in the action

Berry Gordy, who campaigned such stakes winners as Alex the Great, Argument, and Powis Castle, but dispersed his holdings in 1996, has returned to racing as a partner in the promising 3-year-old Just Wonder.

Last Friday, Gordy attended the races at Santa Anita to watch Just Wonder win his U.S. debut in a one-mile turf race. Just Wonder, trained by Laura de Seroux, represents Gordy's first investment in racing since his dispersal.

Friends and several members of his family joined Gordy in the winner's circle, including his sister Anna.

"I decided that I'd been away long enough," Gordy said. "Plus, my sister Anna loves it."

Barrera returns to winner's circle

Larry Barrera saddled his first winner in more than a decade on Sunday when Tender Cruiser ($60.60) won a maiden race on turf.

Barrera, a son of the late Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera, has six horses for Aaron and Marie Jones. Earlier in his career, he trained Image of Reality to a win in the 1980 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. He resumed his involvement in racing 18 months ago, first as a bloodstock agent and as a trainer last fall.

Barrera, 43, said his stable will grow in coming months. Barrera credited Aaron Jones for providing support in recent years while Barrera fought substance abuse problems.

Turf prep for Debonair Joe

Debonair Joe, the upset winner of the Vernon Underwood Stakes and Malibu Stakes in December, will make his next start on turf following his sixth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

Trainer Juan Pablo Silva said he is considering starting Debonair Joe in an upcoming starter allowance race on turf as a prep to the $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap over a mile on turf for California-breds on March 23.

"The starter allowance will decide if we go on to the Crystal Water," Silva said. "I'll work him on Thursday on the grass and we'll see how he does."

* Jockey Octavio Vergara has dropped an appeal of a five-day suspension issued earlier at the meeting. The new suspension dates are Wednesday through Sunday. Vergara rode his first winner of the meeting in Sunday's ninth race.