10/24/2005 11:00PM

BC Mile: Host better than ever after ankle surgery

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Host, who underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from an ankle in February, comes into the Mile off a win in the Shadwell at Keeneland.

ELMONT, New York - Only from the outside looking in did it appear that Host popped out of nowhere to win the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. Host was 10-1 in the Shadwell. He hadn't raced in eight months. And since being imported from Chile in the latter part of 2003, Host had not even been entered above the Grade 2 level.

"The horse maybe wasn't a household name," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Host for Melnyk Racing Stables. "We get a ton of South American horses people are looking to sell and give you video on. That horse's races were very impressive on video. We've always thought he was a very good horse."

Host was starting to show that last fall and winter. He easily won the Grade 2 Knickerbocker Handicap at Aqueduct, beat the good turf horse Silver Tree in the Tropical Park Turf at Calder, and finished second to the sharp Mr. Light in the Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream. But that was all the public saw of Host before he won the Shadwell on Oct. 8 at Keeneland. Host developed a bone chip in his left front ankle that was surgically removed in February. Pletcher said the operation was performed sooner rather than later with an eye toward making the Breeders' Cup Mile - and here Host is.

"It's one of those rare instances when you plan something that far ahead and it works out," Pletcher said.

Host, who will be supplemented to the Mile at a cost of $300,000, returned to Pletcher's Belmont string in August, and the natural spot for his comeback was the Kelso Handicap on Oct. 2. But there Host would only have run for a $250,000 purse compared with $600,000 at Keeneland, and by waiting for the Shadwell, Pletcher could give Host one final work he thought the horse might need.

Host "probably is one of the coolest horses we've ever had," Pletcher said. "He's pretty push-button to train."

Pletcher said Host has continued to train well in the days leading up to the Mile. But the Shadwell was a weird race. Many of the top contenders never picked up their feet, and Host led a parade of longshots who took the top spots. Handicappers are right to question the strength of the race. But Host already has pulled one upset this fall.

In other Mile news:

* The Hollywood Park-based 2004 Mile winner Singletary arrived at Belmont on Tuesday just about the same time sheets of rain were falling at the track. But trainer Don Chatlos, already in New York, wasn't fretting.

"The stuff that's out of my control - the weather, the post position - I'm not going to worry about that," Chatlos said. "All I'm worrying about is how my horse is coming into the race, and he's doing as good as he could be."

* Gorella, a close, closing third in the Oct. 15 Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland, worked a half-mile in 47.60 seconds over Turfway's all-weather Polytrack Tuesday morning. Gorella has excellent European form, and trainer Patrick Biancone said she prefers a mile to the nine furlongs of the QE II.

"I know she's going to improve off that race," Biancone said.