12/01/2003 12:00AM

Congaree coming back to race at 6

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Barring something unforeseen in the coming months, the five-time Grade 1 winner Congaree will race as a 6-year-old, his connections confirmed Monday.

Congaree was a smashing 5 1/4-length winner of Saturday's $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, the second consecutive year in which Congaree won this Grade 1 race. Though Congaree's final time of 1:34.30 was 1.19 seconds slower than last year, he earned an identical Beyer Speed Figure of 120, validating jockey Jerry Bailey's assertion that the track was one to two seconds slower than a year ago.

John Terranova, who oversaw Congaree for California-based trainer Bob Baffert, said Congaree came out of the race in great shape and was due to ship back to California on Tuesday. John Adger, the racing manager for Bob and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable, said Congaree's 6-year-old campaign could include the $6 million Dubai World Cup in late March. Other goals could include the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont in late May and the Breeders' Cup Classic in late October. Next year's Breeders' Cup will be held at Lone Star Park in Texas, where the McNairs own the National Football League's Houston Texans.

"I'd say the main reason to keep him in training is because the McNairs enjoy seeing him run," Adger said. "They enjoy having a horse of that caliber. He is by far the best horse to date we ever raced."

With his victory in the Cigar Mile, Congaree improved his record to 12 for 23 and increased his purse earnings to $3,241,400. Approximately one-third of that has been earned at Aqueduct, where Congaree won the 2001 Wood, 2003 Carter, and two runnings of the Cigar Mile.

Read the Footnotes, Ashado head south

Read the Footnotes and Ashado, winners of the Remsen and Demoiselle, left for south Florida and the Palm Meadows training center Monday morning, less than 48 hours after recording their Grade 2 stakes wins.

Five months from now, both hope to be in Kentucky for the Derby and Oaks, respectively.

Read the Footnotes won the Remsen by 3 3/4 lengths and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 105, equaling the highest of any 2-year-old colt this year. Master David, who previously had raced in England, finished second, and it was 10 3/4 lengths back to the rest of the field.

"If the European horse misses his plane, he wins by 13 or 14 lengths, and he might have taken Congaree's place on the front page," said trainer Rick Violette.

Read the Footnotes completed his 2-year-old season with 4 wins from 5 starts, including a 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Nashua. Being a New York-bred, he will naturally be compared to Funny Cide, who this year became the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby.

As a son of sprint champion Smoke Glacken, Read the Footnotes will naturally be questioned on his ability to get the 10 furlongs of the Derby, which will be run on May 1.

"I guess when you're training them you don't look at the pedigree," said Violette, who trains Read the Footnotes for Seth Klarman's Klaravich Stable. "I don't think about it a whole lot. I don't care who he's by. He hasn't done anything either in the morning or the afternoon to show me he has distance limitations."

Violette is considering a three-race campaign leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Read the Footnotes could make his 3-year-old debut in the seven-furlong Hutcheson or nine-furlong Fountain of Youth - both are run on Feb. 14 - come back in the Florida Derby on March 13 and then the Wood Memorial on April 10.

Violette said Read the Footnotes would have a light December before "starting in earnest" in January.

Meanwhile, Todd Pletcher said he is considering two races for Ashado before the Kentucky Oaks on April 30. Pletcher said the Ashland at Keeneland in early April is one target with a yet-to-be-decided spot picked out for Ashado's 3-year-old debut. Pletcher mentioned either the Davona Dale on Feb. 7 or the Bonnie Miss on March 6 - both at Gulfstream Park - as possible starting points.

"She thrives on work. She can be a bit lazy and needs a lot of work," Pletcher said. "We kicked around the of idea whether she needed a holiday on the farm in Ocala, but she almost looked a little fat in the paddock which is surprising after shipping her cross-country and running her in the Breeders' Cup."

Her victory in the Demoiselle combined with wins in the Schuylerville and Spinaway and runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile established Ashado as the second-best 2-year-old filly in the country behind only Halfbridled.

Randaroo may try La Brea

Randaroo, who won her third consecutive graded stakes with her victory in Friday's Top Flight Handicap, is being considered for the Grade 1, $250,000 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 27.

The La Brea, run at seven furlongs, is restricted to 3-year-old fillies and begins the La Canada series in Southern California, which includes the El Encino run at 1 1/16 miles in January and the La Canada, at 1 1/8 miles in February.

"We know she'll go a mile," said Art Mangnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "Two turns is still a question mark."

Randaroo is likely to train in New York leading up to the La Brea. Meanwhile, Roar Emotion and Volga, two other stakes-winning horses owned by Joe Allen and trained by McLaughlin, put in workouts Monday at Belmont and were scheduled to ship to Florida on Thursday.

Volga, who won the E.P. Taylor, went four furlongs in 49.65 seconds over the training track and is being pointed to the La Prevoyante at Calder on Dec. 27. Roar Emotion, the Black-Eyed Susan winner, who has not raced since late June, went five furlongs in 1:02.85 and will likely show up in allowance company in Florida.

Bottom claiming price dropped this winter

For years, the bottom-level claiming price in New York during the winter was $10,000. For the upcoming winter meet, the bottom level has been reduced to $7,500. There are four races for that claiming price written in the current condition book.

Mike Lakow, Aqueduct's racing secretary, said that the reduction - as well as the redistribution of purse money so that all runners in a race will receive a check - was done in an effort to increase field size. There are some mid-Atlantic and Finger Lakes-based trainers who wanted to race here this winter, he said, and they have some cheaper horses.

"We had nearly 700 empty stalls over the winter last year," Lakow said. "We had new people who wanted stalls, guys from Finger Lakes, more Delaware people, more Jersey people."

Lakow said lowering the bottom level is not intended to cheapen New York racing and said if the races don't fill he won't write them for the next condition book.

"We pride ourselves on strong cards and strong racing, even in the winter," Lakow said. "If we go from 1,200 [horses] to 1,900 maybe there's room for more divisions."

* Gander, the soon-to-be 9-year-old New York-bred gelding, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.24 over the training track on Monday. He was scheduled to ship to Gulfstream on Tuesday and is being pointed to the $100,000 Hal's Hope Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 3.