11/25/2002 12:00AM

Congaree could help McNair conquer N.Y. again


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After his football team wreaked havoc on the New York Giants on Sunday, Robert McNair's horse will try to do the same to some of New York's top Thoroughbreds this Saturday in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

While the 16-14 victory by the Houston Texans - owned by McNair - was considered a major upset, a victory by Congaree in the $350,000 Cigar Mile would not be as surprising. Congaree, who won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial over this track as a 3-year-old, will be the starting highweight at 119 pounds.

Since returning from a knee injury suffered in last year's Jim Dandy at Saratoga, Congaree has had an inconsistent 4-year-old season. He made a sharp debut winning the Grade 2 Lone Star Park Handicap in May, but finished a distant sixth as the favorite in the Stephen Foster Handicap in June.

After running third in the San Diego Handicap, Congaree won the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap, a two-turn mile race, in September. McNair and trainer Bob Baffert were hoping to make a Breeders' Cup Mile horse out of Congaree, but he weakened to seventh in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile, his first start on turf.

After that experiment failed, Baffert and McNair decided to point Congaree to the Cigar Mile, the last Grade 1 race of the year in New York. Congaree has trained exceptionally well at Santa Anita the last few weeks, including a five-furlong move in 59.60 seconds on Monday. He will ship to New York along with Crafty C.T. on Wednesday night.

"I think he's better going a two-turn mile than a one-turn mile, but he's doing great, so it's a good spot to run him in,'' Baffert said Monday from California. "He's training great right now.''

Jerry Bailey will ride Congaree in the Cigar Mile against a solid field. Expected to run in the Cigar Mile, with rider assignments and weights are: Bonapaw (Gerard Melancon, 117); Crafty C.T. (Pat Valenzuela, 117); Aldebaran (Jorge Chavez, 116); Harlan's Holiday (John Velazquez, 116); Red Bullet (Edgar Prado, 116); Burning Roma (Eibar Coa, 115); Multiple Choice (no rider, 114); Nothing Flat (Norberto Arroyo Jr., 113); Windsor Castle (Javier Castellano, 113); and Resolve (no rider, 112).

Red Bullet on target for Mile

Red Bullet, the 2000 Preakness winner, prepared for the Cigar Mile by drilling five furlongs in 59.51 seconds Sunday over Belmont's training track. It was the best of 37 moves at the distance.

Trainer Joe Orseno said he was looking for a real stiff work since Red Bullet has only had one six-furlong race since March. Red Bullet won the Foggy Road Stakes at Delaware Park on Nov. 2.

"I'm happy with the way he's progressed off that one race,'' Orseno said. "It's a tough race, a Grade 1, and there are a lot of horses in there that have good credentials. I'm bringing him into it the best I can and hopefully his talent will take over.'' Edgar Prado will ride Red Bullet for the first time.

Though Red Bullet is a classic winner and will turn 6 on Jan. 1, he said there is a chance owner Frank Stronach would bring him back to race next year.

Fogelsonger 'Crossing' the Hudson

Ryan Fogelsonger, the leading apprentice in the country, may not be riding here this winter, but he is scheduled to make a cameo appearance at Aqueduct on Thursday when he rides Crossing Point in the $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap.

Crossing Point is 4 for 4 this year, including his last three for trainer Ben Feliciano Jr., who claimed the gelding for $20,000 from Katharine Voss in June. Crossing Point is coming off a 7 1/4-length victory in an optional claiming race at Laurel Park on Nov. 1 in which he set the track record of 1:02.45 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Feliciano said he claimed the gelding because he had run well against richer horses as a 3-year-old before tailing off last year. Feliciano said it was worth taking a shot for $20,000.

Crossing Point is purely speed, and figures to be the one to catch in the Fall Highweight. Though Fogelsonger is an apprentice, he will not receive the five-pound allowance because this is a stakes race. Crossing Point will carry 133 pounds in the Fall Highweight, run at six furlongs.

Among those expected to run and their weights, are: Voodoo (136), True Direction (134), Esteemed Friend (133), Vodka (133), Well Fancied (133), Smooth Jazz (132), and Out of Fashion (128).

Nasty Storm headed this way

Kentucky-based Nasty Storm, who blew home a 14-1 winner in last month's Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont, is heading back to New York for Friday's Grade 2, $150,000 Top Flight Handicap.

Since her upset victory in the Gallant Bloom, Nasty Storm has been purchased by Frank Stronach. She had previously run for a partnership that included trainer Dallas Stewart and former Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum.

The Top Flight will be Nasty Storm's first start at one mile since she won the Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap over Forest Secrets one year ago. Stewart, who remains her trainer, pointed out that Nasty Storm also won the Dogwood Handicap at 1 1/16 miles as a 3-year-old.

"This should fit her perfect,'' Stewart said of the one-turn mile. "It'll allow her to break and relax.''

Nasty Storm worked four furlongs in 47.80 seconds Monday at Churchill - third best of 25 moves at the distance - and was expected to ship to New York on Tuesday. Rene Douglas will ride the filly. Nasty Storm was assigned 116 pounds, four fewer than highweight Mandy's Gold.

Also expected to run are Zonk (116), Shiny Band (114), Unrestrained (114), Ellie's Moment (113), Sightseek (113), Alchemilla (112), and possibly Willa on the Move (113).

- Forbidden Apple, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, worked four furlongs in 50.20 seconds Monday at Belmont. He is being pointed to the Great State Challenge Turf, a nine-furlong race at Sam Houston Park on Dec. 7.