05/28/2002 12:00AM

Congaree wins return, serves notice


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - The handicap division has a new player in Congaree, who won his comeback from a 10-month layoff wire-to-wire in the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap.

The race was Congaree's first since the Grade 1 Jim Dandy last August, and was one of seven stakes worth a total of $1 million at Lone Star Park on a Million Day card that drew a crowd of 18,081, the second-largest of the meet behind the 18,242 on hand on Kentucky Derby Day.

Congaree stumbled a little at the break in the 1 1/16-mile Lone Star Park Handicap, but quickly took command and led the field through an opening half of 46.52 seconds. He turned back bids by several of his rivals on the final turn, then kept 48-1 longshot Prince Iroquois at bay, surging again in deep stretch to win by two lengths. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third to Mercenary.

Congaree covered the distance in 1:42.96 and returned $3.60.

"To set the pace and repulse a challenge like that is a very credible effort," said Pat Day, who rode Congaree for trainer Bob Baffert.

"This horse won on his own," Baffert said. "I had him fit to go about a mile. That last sixteenth of a mile was all heart and class."

Congaree, 4, has won five of nine starts for Stonerside Stable. He earned $180,000 for the win, raising his career earnings to $1,243,400.

Last year Congaree won the Grade 1 Swaps and Grade 2 Wood Memorial and was third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He is being pointed for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

Also on the card:

* Regiment ($4.40), also trained by Baffert, remained perfect on turf, winning the $200,000 Diamond "A" USA Stakes at 1 1/16 miles by 1 1/2 lengths over Diamond Hope. It was 1 1/4 lengths back to Kamolia in third.

Regiment has now won his last four races, three on turf. Legislator, the even-money favorite, was pulled up in the first turn with an injury to his right front leg.

* Queen of Wilshire ($10.80) gave jockey David Flores his third stakes win on the card, driving to a one-length win over Pleasant State in the $200,000 WinStar Distaff. It was three-quarters of a length back in third to Blushing Bride.

Queen of Wilshire covered the mile over a turf course that had been downgraded to good after rains in 1:38.96.

The WinStar was the second straight stakes win for Queen of Wilshire, who won the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park last month. She earned $120,000 Monday, raising her bankroll to $423,102. She is owned by Ernest Auerbach and trained by Darrell Vienna.

* Nuclear Debate ($7.40), also trained by Vienna, came close to setting a course record for five furlongs on turf, running down Joyful Tune in the stretch to win the $100,000 Beck Auto Group by a length in 55.74 seconds. The record is 55.60 seconds, set by Icy Morn in 1997.

Joyful Tune set fractions of 21.81 seconds for the opening quarter and 44.07 for the half before drifting out in the later stages. It was 2 3/4 lengths to Boots on Sunday back in third.

"I sat chilly behind the speed, and when it was time to go, I knew he had a great turn of foot," said Flores, who rode Nuclear Debate for owner Herrick Racing.

* Prized Amberpro ($61.40) rallied up the rail to win the $100,000 Valid Expectations Stakes by three-quarters of a length over Hattiesburg. It was another three-quarters of a length back in third to Hallowed Dreams, who was making her first start since February.

Hallowed Dreams had the lead in midstretch of the six-furlong race but Prized Amberpro closed fast, covering the distance over a fast track in 1:10.56.

* Coastalota ($6) rolled past the leaders in the stretch to win the $50,000 JEH Stallion Station Stakes for Texas-bred fillies and mares by a length over Suzie Sunshine. It was a neck back in third to Princess Liza.

Coastalota ran the 6 1/2 furlongs over a fast track in 1:18.99.

* St. Martin's Cloak ($20.60) rallied from a few lengths off the pace to win the $50,000 Carter McGregor Jr. for statebreds, by 1 1/4 lengths over R.B. Spirit. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third to Kentucky Bay.

St. Martin's Cloak ran the six furlongs over a fast track in 1:10