05/20/2002 12:00AM

Congaree may return in Handicap


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Congaree, who was expected to make his 4-year-old debut Monday in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, is now more likely to launch his comeback in the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap the same day. The 1 1/16-mile race anchors Lone Star Million Day, which will feature seven stakes.

The strength of the field for this year's Met Mile has prompted the connections of Congaree, who has not raced since Aug. 4, to consider altering plans for the colt. A final decision was to be made after Congaree, owned by Stonerside Stable and trained by Bob Baffert, works at Churchill Downs on Tuesday.

"Bob is pretty much leaning that way," John Adger, Stonerside's racing manager, said of the Lone Star Park Handicap. "He's thinking this might be a little better spot to start out."

Of the Met Mile, Adger said, "There's quite a full field up there, a lot of Grade 1 horses in it, and we don't want to throw him to the wolves, so to speak.

"There are no easy races anywhere, but this might be a little more prudent at this time."

Adger said if Congaree would have had the benefit of a race under his belt this year, he would run in the Met Mile, which is expected to draw Left Bank, D'wildcat, Crafty C.T., Grey Memo, Affirmed Success, Aldebaran, Burning Roma, and Redattore.

Pat Day will ride Congaree for the first time in the Lone Star Handicap. Congaree has not raced since he finished third last summer in the Grade 1 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, in which he wrenched a knee. Before that start, Congaree won the Grade 1 Swaps.

Congareee also finished third last year in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and is the first homebred to earn $1 million for Stonerside, which is owned by Bob and Janice McNair of Houston.

Congaree is the 119-pound highweight for the Lone Star Park Handicap. Others officials considered probable on Monday were Freedom Crest, Unrullah Bull, Reba's Gold, Outofthebox, Compendium, Remington Rock, Valhol, L.A. Spider Legs, Mercenary, Mr. John, and Neon Shadow. There could be defections from that list, however, with the expected presence of Congaree.

Other major stakes scheduled for Monday at Lone Star include the $200,000 WinStar Distaff, which is expected to draw Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap winner Eurolink Raindance and Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap winner Queen of Wilshire, and the $100,000 Valid Expectations, which should match Hallowed Dreams against Hattiesburg and Spanish Glitter.

Lovato to return soon

Leading rider Anthony Lovato, who was kicked by a horse in the paddock Friday night, could return to the saddle as early as Thursday, according to his agent, Jerry Reites. Lovato has not ridden since he was kicked by Prophet's Reward as he mounted the colt for the seventh race.

The rider's thigh was bruised in the incident, and Prophet's Reward, a first-time starter, went on to finish second in the maiden race. Lovato leads jockey Corey Lanerie in the standings, 31 wins to 25. He is the regular rider of Unrullah Bull.

Fillies go to trial

Trials for the filly division of the $150,000-estimated Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity spice up a nine-race card Wednesday night. The first three finishers in the third, fifth, and seventh races on the card will advance to the five-furlong finale, which will be run June 8.

Trials for the colts and geldings division of the race are to be run Thursday.

In the third race Wednesday night, first-time starters Stirrin Up a Storm and You Glitter Girl will meet after registering a series of impressive morning workouts.

Meanwhile, the fifth race appears to be a matchup between Sea Bloom, one of the more impressive maiden winners at the meet, and the fast Santa Fe Strip, one of three fillies invading for trainer Bernie Flint.

In the final trial, Donnie Meche rides probable favorite Bedif for Steve Asmussen, who has sent out the past three winners of the filly division of the TTA Sales Futurity.

* Lone Star planned to turn up the racing surface after training hours on Monday, which could change the complexion of the track for Wednesday's program.

- additional reporting by David Grening