02/15/2006 1:00AM

Congrats makes career change

Congrats, who ran in all three handicap division Grade 1's in California last year, will now try one-turn races.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Richard Mandella will steer Congrats in a different direction in 2006.

"Last year I was running him in all the classics," Mandella said. "This year I want to experiment a bit with one turn and see how he does."

Congrats finished second last year in the Santa Anita Handicap, fifth in the Dubai World Cup, third in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and, finally, eighth in the Pacific Classic. That was on Aug. 21, his last start.

"I think he was a tired horse last year," Mandella said.

Congrats had a right to be. He was the only horse to run in Dubai and all three Grade 1 handicap division races in California.

Congrats, 6, returns Saturday at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap, a seven-furlong race that could lead toward a start in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 29 at Belmont Park.

Mandella is serious about the Met Mile. So serious in fact, that he said, "I don't want to talk about it."

It would be a significant achievement for Congrats, a son of A.P. Indy who could pass the million-dollar mark in earnings on Saturday. Congrats has won seven races and $978,960 from 22 starts, and though he has been a long-distance horse most of career, he can sprint. In his first start after Dubai last summer, Congrats set a fast pace in a one-turn stakes at Hollywood Park, finishing second in the 7 1/2-furlong Ack Ack.

"He's a fast horse, but I'm not going to send him [Saturday]," Mandella said. "I want to see if he will settle off those horses and catch them."

Congrats will start as the 118-pound co-highweight on Saturday with Jet West. Congrats will be ridden as usual by Tyler Baze. He runs well fresh - he won his 2002 debut at Saratoga, and won a 2003 allowance at Aqueduct off an eight-month layoff and a 2004 allowance at Keeneland off a six-month layoff.

Another six-month hiatus ends when Congrats returns Saturday, and exercise rider Paul Niluang told Mandella that Congrats "looks fat."

Mandella countered by saying, "My horses run good fat."

A three-furlong blowout Wednesday in 37.20 seconds was the final preparation for Congrats, and Mandella dismissed as insignificant a Feb. 10 workout in which Congrats was outworked by Mandella's other San Carlos starter, Ulistnintome.

"His last workout wasn't very good; he got into a fight with the rider," Mandella said, while watching Congrats school early this week. "But look at him. He's jumping out of his skin."

In fact, Congrats looks super, and might be up to a career change to one turn. The San Carlos is his comeback prep, but also an important stepping-stone, Mandella hopes, to a berth in the Met Mile.

Stablemates' paths diverge

Two well-regarded 3-year-olds trained by Mandella will go separate paths after strong efforts last week. Peace Chant, a War Chant colt produced by Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Safely Kept, will stretch out to two turns after a sharp runner-up effort in the Grade 2, seven-furlong San Vicente. Peace Chant, 1 for 3, is eligible to a first-level allowance.

Glory Pass, a Tiznow colt and a half-brother to Japan Cup winner Alkaased, scored an impressive maiden win in a grass route last week, and Mandella said he is likely to stay on grass.

Borrego to skip Big Cap

Borrego, the Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner in 2005, will not start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4 after missing training because of a virus, trainer Beau Greely said.

Borrego, 5, will be pointed for the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 8, Greely said. Last year, Borrego was third in the Big Cap, and missed the Oaklawn Handicap because of illness.

"I was planning on running in the Big Cap, but he got that virus," Greely said. "Missing a work, it would have been too tough. He's back on the track. There's no sense in running him unless he's perfect."

The Big Cap has nine probable starters - High Limit, Top This and That, and Giacomo, the first three finishers of the Strub Stakes on Feb. 4; Spellbinder, With Distinction, and Wilko, the first three from the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 5; Lava Man and Texcess, who were first and third in the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 28; and Marenostrum, the winner of an allowance race on Jan. 7.

Andujar to resume training

Andujar, one of the top older females in California last year, is preparing for a return to training after being sidelined last summer with a tendon injury, trainer Doug O'Neill said.

Andujar has not started since finishing third in the Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga last July. She was diagnosed with a tendon injury shortly after that race and spent the fall and early winter at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif.

O'Neill said Andujar is tack-walking and will return to his stable in March. "They've e-mailed us pictures and she looks good," he said.

Owned by Paul Reddam and Mark Schlesinger, Andujar won the Grade 2 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap by seven lengths last June and finished third in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap in July.

Proud Tower Too is supplemented

Proud Tower Too, who won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in December and was 11th in the Sunshine Millions Classic, is the 120-pound topweight for Sunday's $125,000 Sensational Star Handicap on the hillside turf course.

Owned by Tricar Stable and trained by Sal Gonzalez, Proud Tower Too, 4, was supplemented to the Sensational Star for $2,500 on Tuesday. The race is run at about 6 1/2 furlongs.

* Four fillies and mares - Elusive Diva, Katdogawn, Ticker Tape, and Toupie - share top weight of 118 pounds in Monday's $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap at a mile on turf.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen