11/27/2003 12:00AM

Congaree heads Cigar

Trained by Bob Baffert, Congaree brings to the Cigar a 3-for-3 record at the Big A and liking for the one-mile trip.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Some racing pundits have suggested that a one-mile dirt race would enhance the Breeders' Cup. The connections of Congaree would be all for that.

"If they had a one-turn mile we'd probably keep him in training till he was 10 years old," said Bob Baffert, who trains the 5-year-old Congaree for Bob and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable. "He's a great miler."

Congaree, a four-time Grade 1 winner and earner of $3 million, is 3 for 4 at the mile distance. Congaree may have never been more impressive in his 22-race career than last November at Aqueduct when he won the Cigar Mile by 3 1/2 lengths. Saturday, Congaree will defend that title while looking to remain perfect at Aqueduct when he heads an eight-horse field entered in the $350,000 Cigar Mile.

The Cigar is the centerpiece of Saturday's 10-race card, which also includes the $200,000 Remsen for juveniles and the $200,000 Demoiselle for juvenile fillies. First post is 12 p.m. Eastern.

Congaree drew post 2 and is the 124-pound highweight in the Cigar Mile. He is drawn outside the probable second choice, Midas Eyes, a multiple graded-stakes winner who gets in with 115 pounds.

Though he excels at a mile, Congaree has won from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. His connections tried him in the Breeders' Cup Classic last month, where he dueled with Medaglia d'Oro for nine furlongs before giving way in the stretch to finish fourth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. The morning after the race Baffert said he wanted to run Congaree in the Cigar Mile, and the horse has cooperated in his training.

Congaree, who is 3 for 3 at Aqueduct, will be reunited with jockey Jerry Bailey, who is 4 for 6 aboard Congaree, including that victory in last year's Cigar. Baffert says Congaree is a difficult horse to ride, but for some reason Bailey gets along with him.

"The thing about Jerry is he's got soft hands - he relaxes on him, he doesn't move on him," Baffert said.

Bailey enters Saturday's card one stakes win shy of Mike Smith's single-year record of 68. Bailey also rides Ashado in the Demoiselle and Read the Footnotes in the Remsen.

Before catching a plane east on Thursday, Midas Eyes's trainer Bobby Frankel said he thought post position would play a role in the Cigar and that he did not want Midas Eyes to draw an inside post. Frankel's Thanksgiving turkey might have been tough to digest when he learned Midas Eyes drew the rail. "I'd rather be outside," Frankel said.

Jockey John Velazquez will probably have to use Midas Eyes's speed early and could get hooked up in a speed duel.

Well Fancied and Voodoo are the other speed horses in the field and will break from posts 6 and 7, respectively. Well Fancied has won his last four starts, the last three coming in New York-bred stakes. Well Fancied likes Aqueduct and gets in at 115 pounds under Edgar Prado.

Voodoo won the seven-furlong Sport Page Handicap at Belmont on Oct. 25, earning a career-best 111 Beyer Speed Figure. He must prove he can string together back-to-back winning performances.

If there's an upset to be had, who better than Allen Jerkens to pull it off? Jerkens, nicknamed "the Giant-killer," sends out Bowman's Band in the Cigar. Bowman's Band won the Meadowlands Cup at 12-1 and finished second as the 6-5 favorite in the Sport Page. Bowman's Band may have been too close to a hot pace in the Sport Page and could be a stretch threat if Ramon Dominguez is able to settle him early.

Trainer Todd Pletcher made a last-minute decision to enter Newfoundland in the Cigar. Newfoundland won a pair of two-turn races at Belmont in the fall, then finished fifth in the Discovery Handicap around two turns here on Oct. 29.

Pletcher named Richard Migliore to ride. Migliore became available when Presidentialaffair, the Stuyvesant Handicap winner, was not entered because of a foot abscess.

Toccet won the Grade 1 Champagne as a 2-year-old, the last time he raced around one turn, and won the Remson on this card last year. But Toccet's 3-year-old year has been a bust.

New York Hero, a graded stakes-winning 3-year-old, completes the field.

The field

Cigar Mile Handicap

Purse: $350,000; 1 Mile; Grade 1

1Midas EyesJ. Velazquez1155-2
2CongareeJ. Bailey1248-5
3New York HeroJ. Castellano11330-1
4NewfoundlandR. Migliore11330-1
5ToccetM. Luzzi1156-1
6Well FanciedE. Prado E S1155-1
7VoodooJ. Santos1168-1
8Bowman's BandR. Dominguez1185-1

* Odds by Steve Grabowski