11/25/2003 1:00AM

Congaree ready to defend Cigar title


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Bob Baffert is battling the flu, which may keep him home in Southern California this weekend. Unfortunately for Baffert's New York colleagues with designs on Saturday's Grade 1 Cigar Mile, his horse, Congaree, is doing just fine.

Congaree on Tuesday completed preparations for the $350,000 Cigar Mile by working four furlongs in 46.80 seconds at Santa Anita. It was the second fastest of 31 moves at the distance and should have Congaree primed to defend the Cigar title he won a year ago.

"I loved the way he went - he's been training really well since the Breeders' Cup," Baffert said. "I'm looking forward to it. I wouldn't put him on the plane if I thought there was any hesitation."

Congaree, a four-time Grade 1 winner, was assigned high weight of 124 pounds for the Cigar, meaning he'll concede six to 11 pounds to seven expected rivals. Bowman's Band, the Meadowlands Cup winner, is next with 118 pounds, followed by Voodoo (116), Midas Eyes (115), Presidentialaffair (115), Toccet (115), Well Fancied (115), and New York Hero (113).

Congaree is coming out of a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic, a race in which he broke inwardly under Patrick Valenzuela and dueled with Medaglia d'Oro before giving way grudgingly in midstretch.

"I wasn't excited about the way it set up," Baffert said. "He got in a speed duel, and I knew we were cooked from then on. It's not how I wanted him to run. He came over on that horse and [Patrick] took a hold of him and he took off."

In the Cigar Mile, Congaree will be reunited with Jerry Bailey, who has ridden him to four stakes victories in six rides, including last year's Cigar Mile.

Congaree was expected to arrive from Southern California on Wednesday. Baffert may not arrive at all if he doesn't get over the flu.

"If he felt like me, I don't feel he'd run a jump," Baffert said of Congaree. "I'm not doing too well, but he's doing great."

Bowman's Band works five furlongs

Bowman's Band also worked on Tuesday, drilling five furlongs in 1:00.58 over the Belmont Park training track.

Jockey Ray Ganpath was aboard for the move, the fastest of six at the distance.

"He's a willing work horse, and he's a nice horse to be around," said trainer Allen Jerkens, who took over the training of Bowman's Band from Michael Matz about a week before the horse won the Meadowlands Cup.

After that victory, Bowman's Band finished second behind Voodoo in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap. He was turning back from nine furlongs to seven furlongs in that race.

"It's hard when a horse that's generally a distance horse tries to keep up going shorter," Jerkens said. "They're not going to kick if they're going faster than they're used to going [early]."

Snake Mountain skips Clark

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens decided over the weekend that he would not ship Snake Mountain to Churchill Downs for Friday's $500,000 Clark Handicap and instead will point him toward the $100,000 Queens County over Aqueduct's inner track on Dec. 6. Snake Mountain won last year's Queens County, the first of four consecutive stakes wins for the gelded son of A.P. Indy.

Jerkens canceled his spot on Monday's plane to Kentucky on Sunday, but he said he gave the Clark renewed thought when he heard Monday that Medaglia d'Oro was not running. However, the trainer decided to stay home.

"He runs his best races when he can start gaining on horses pretty early in his races, and it didn't look like that would happen there," Jerkens said. "It looked like he would get shuffled back there and never get a chance to get going."

Jerkens was also mindful that the last time Snake Mountain shipped out of New York, he finished sixth in the Pimlico Special.

Beauty Halo seeks first graded win

Beauty Halo, a lightly raced 4-year-old from trainer Elliott Walden's barn, seeks her first graded stakes win in this country in Friday's $150,000 Top Flight Handicap.

WinStar Farm purchased Beauty Halo in 2002 after she won 2 of 3 starts in Argentina, including a Group 3 at seven furlongs in the slop.

Walden said that Beauty Halo, a daughter of Southern Halo, took some time to acclimate after arriving in his barn in the fall of 2002. When the filly was ready to run, Walden entered her in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the grass at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 22, and she finished sixth. When he picked out the grass race for her American debut, Walden was under the impression that Beauty Halo had been racing on the turf in South America.

"When the [past performances] came out and I saw her dirt form, I thought, 'Uh-oh,' " Walden said. "We ran her anyway. She was a nice filly in Argentina, with a nice pedigree, and we thought she would do well here."

Since her failed attempt on the grass, Beauty Halo has won two allowance races on the dirt at Keeneland. In April, Beauty Halo won at seven furlongs in the mud and came out of the race with a virus that knocked her out until the fall. In her return, she won a six-furlong race by 1 1/4 lengths on Oct. 11.

"The virus took her a while to get over because it hit her pretty hard," Walden said. "I thought her last race was very strong, and afterward I regretted that I hadn't run her in the Thoroughbred Club of America the day after. We've had our sights on the [Top Flight]."

Beauty Halo, who was assigned 113 pounds for the Grade 2 Top Flight, arrived in New York from Kentucky on Monday and will be ridden by Richard Migliore.

Others pointing to the one-mile Top Flight, with weights, are Miss Lodi (116), Pocus Hocus (116), Randaroo (116), Willa on the Move (116), Shawklit Mint (114), Artist Johanna (113), Zawzooth (113), and Austin's Mom (111).

Sightseek won the 2002 Top Flight and was assigned 124 pounds as this year's highweight, but she is not expected to run.

Run Cat Run stretching out

Run Cat Run, who has one win, at 4 1/2 furlongs, will take a major leap when she runs in Saturday's $200,000 Demoiselle. The Grade 2 Demoiselle will be run at 1 1/8 miles.

After winning a maiden race at Pimlico in April for trainer John Salzman, Run Cat Run, a granddaughter of Storm Cat, was privately purchased by Team Valor Stables and turned over to John Terranova II to train in New York.

Terranova said that Run Cat Run bucked her shins in her maiden win and was given the summer off. She returned in a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes at The Meadowlands on Oct. 17 and finished third after having the lead in the stretch.

"It was a very soft turf, and maybe if it was firmer she would have held on a little more," Terranova said. "We want to go on a little bit at this point with her on the dirt and see what she is made of. She's not a big horse, but she covers a lot of ground. Pedigree-wise, the distance should be fine for her."

Recently, Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor syndicate, announced that Ralph Nicks would become the stable's private trainer. In all likelihood, Run Cat Run would be transferred to Nicks after the Demoiselle, according to Terranova.

A small field is taking shape for the Demoiselle. Besides Run Cat Run, the other expected starters are Ashado, Dr. Kathy, La Reina, and Please Take Me Out.

Pegram sends two to Terranova

Owner Mike Pegram recently sent Terranova two horses: Danthebluegrassman, a graded stakes winner, and an unraced New York-bred 2-year-old colt by Souvenir Copy. Both horses previously were in Kentucky with Baffert.

Danthebluegrassman, who won last year's Golden Gate Derby and two allowance races this year, will participate in Aqueduct's stakes program during the winter, with the $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap on Jan. 17 as one objective.

Terranova and his wife, Tonja, know Pegram through their association with Baffert. The Terranovas look after the stakes horses Baffert runs in New York.

Riskaverse to winter in Florida

Riskaverse, who won Saturday's Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs, will receive a winter freshening at Double Diamond Farm in Ocala, Fla., and return to trainer Pat Kelly in the spring for her 5-year-old campaign.

Kelly said that in 2004 he would probably target many of the same New York races that Riskaverse ran in this year, with a couple of exceptions.

"I'm not sure we will do as much of the mile-and-a-quarter races with her," Kelly said.

This year, Riskaverse went 0 for 3 in 1 1/4-mile stakes races.

* On Tuesday, Message Red worked five furlongs in 1:03.25 on the training track for Sunday's $75,000 Montauk Handicap.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson