07/29/2002 11:00PM

Congaree will be on the loose

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Two starts into Congaree's comeback, trainer Bob Baffert is trying to get a line on the colt. Congaree was a runaway winner of the Lone Star Park Handicap in his comeback race on May 27, but faltered to finish sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in his last start.

Now Congaree has returned to Del Mar, where he will start in Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap. The distance, 1 1/16 miles, seems more suitable for Congaree. And Baffert said jockey David Flores will be instructed to let Congaree roll, believing that attempts to rate Congaree are counter-productive.

"He's one-dimensional," Baffert said. "You can't rate him. You've got to let him go."

Congaree rolled through his final workout for the San Diego on Tuesday morning. With exercise rider Dana Barnes aboard, he worked five furlongs, which Baffert clocked in 59.80 seconds, though Congaree did not make the track's official work tab.

"He went easy," said Baffert, who has been encouraged by the way Congaree has trained at Del Mar. Baffert said he trained Congaree lightly for the Stephen Foster, and believes that contributed to his poor performance.

"He can't run any worse than he did last time," Baffert said. "It was a number of things. I didn't do a whole lot with him, because the track was hard. I was afraid to do anything because I didn't want him to get hurt. I think I was over-cautious with him."

In addition to Congaree, the San Diego is expected to include Bosque Redondo (Mike Smith the rider), Dig For It, Euchre (Pat Valenzuela), Investor's Dream, Palmeiro (Alex Solis), and possibly Grey Memo and Nates Colony (Martin Pedroza). Euchre worked five furlongs in 1:00 Tuesday morning at Del Mar.

The weekend's other important stakes race is Saturday's $150,000 San Clemente Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on turf. The Grade 2 race is expected to include, among others, Arabic Song (Corey Nakatani), Daisyago (Eddie Delahoussaye), and Pina Colada (Mike Smith).

Vindication's next stop: Futurity

Vindication, Baffert's highly regarded Seattle Slew colt who was an impressive debut winner on Saturday, may not race again until the meet's closing day, Sept. 11, in the Del Mar Futurity.

"I don't know about the Best Pal," Baffert said, referring to the Futurity's main prep, which is scheduled for Aug. 21. "I don't know if he needs another start. I don't want to run him too many times. He can get ready off of works, as you could see."

Vindication romped to a 5 1/2-length victory in 1:10.74 for six furlongs. A 2-year-old colt, Vindication cost $2.15 million as a yearling one year ago at Saratoga. He is owned by Satish Sanan's Padua Stables.

Disturbingthepeace may go to Saratoga

Disturbingthepeace, who won Saturday's Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap, may head to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Forego Handicap on Sept. 1, according to trainer Darrell Vienna.

The next major sprint at Del Mar is the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap on Aug. 18, but Vienna is lukewarm on the idea of bringing Disturbingthepeace back in three weeks. The Forego gives him another two weeks to train.

"I'd say there's less than a 50-50 chance he'd come back in the Pat O'Brien," Vienna said.

Disturbingthepeace, who has won five straight races, is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, but his owner, David Milch, is not shy about putting up supplemental fees.

"He's not nominated, but we can take care of that," Vienna said.

Kona Gold will weight and see

Kona Gold was kept out of the Bing Crosby because Bruce Headley, his trainer and co-owner, thought the 124-pound weight assignment was too hefty vis-a-vis his rivals. The O'Brien, Headley said, is possible, or he may just wait for the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

What will determine whether Kona Gold runs in the O'Brien?

"Weight," Headley replied. "He's won just one of his last six. I know how it feels to get old. It hurts."

* Jockey Jack Kaenel is at Del Mar, where he rode one race opening week, and hopes to pick up additional mounts as the season progresses. He rode at 120 pounds, and said he thinks he can drop another couple of pounds. "I don't want to reduce and take Lasix," Kaenel, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, said. Kaenel is best known for winning the 1982 Preakness Stakes on Aloma's Ruler.