05/29/2007 12:00AM

Corinthian's Met Mile has owners soaring


ELMONT, N.Y. - Though he probably could have floated home, Don Little Jr., the president of Centennial Farms, was behind the wheel of a single-engine airplane Monday night that took him and his father back to their Massachusetts home just hours after the Centennial-owned Corinthian won the $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.

The 75-minute flight must have seemed like a blur as the Littles relived Corinthian's three-quarter-length victory in the Met Mile, one of the most prestigious races in the country. According to Little - whose father founded Centennial in 1982 - it was Centennial's first Grade 1 victory since Colonial Affair won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1994.

"It's been a long time coming," Little said from his office Tuesday morning. "It's been a lot of devotion and hard work. Our team has been together for 25 years, haven't strayed off the path. It was really rewarding."

Corinthian's victory not only gave Centennial a top-flight stallion prospect, it gave them a horse who figures to compete at the highest level the remainder of the year. Little mentioned five races that Corinthian could compete in, beginning with the Grade 1, $400,000 Suburban Handicap on June 30 and a potential matchup with the defending Horse of the Year, Invasor.

"I would say as of today our next race would be the Suburban," Little said. "It's probably a good opportunity to try to do something."

Little said he had spoken to Centennial's manager of racing operations, Dr. Stephen Carr, "and he said there was nothing in the colt's feed tub this morning. We couldn't have asked him to come out of it any better."

Corinthian has been a project for Centennial and their trainer Jimmy Jerkens. As a 3-year-old, Corinthian was scratched out of the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream because of prerace antics at the gate. Later that winter, he was disqualified from first place and placed third for interference in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. A hind leg injury knocked him off the Triple Crown trail and, after a bad third in a Saratoga allowance race, Corinthian came down with a skin disease that forced him to miss the final five months of 2006.

Corinthian began making up for lost time in Florida when he won an allowance race over Belmont Stakes winner Jazil and then the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct, Corinthian leapt in the air at the start, giving the rest of the field a several-length head start. He ended up fifth.

Monday's pace-pressing victory in the Met Mile - for which Corinthian earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure - erased all the bad memories.

"Jimmy's done a fantastic job with this horse, credit to him," Little said. "It's been tough on him, but all the patience and hard work has paid off. We have a top horse and a top stallion prospect."

Wait a While pointed to Just a Game

Champion 3-year-old filly Wait a While, coming off a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Jenny Wiley Handicap on Keeneland's Polytrack, is being pointed to the Grade 2, $300,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap here on June 9, trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Pletcher had considered shipping Wait a While to California for Monday's Gamely at Hollywood Park, but noted that his next major objective with Wait a While is the $1omillion CashCall Mile Invitational at Hollywood on July 6 and he did not want to ship too often.

"I figure rather than ship to California, run in the Gamely, ship back, and then ship back to California for the CashCall, I could get a mile race into her and then ship only one time," Pletcher said.

Wait a While, who began her 4-year-old season with a win in the Grade 3 Honey Fox Handicap at Gulfstream Park, has worked three times since the Jenny Wiley - a race transferred from the turf to the Polytrack - including a half-mile move in 50.01 over the Belmont turf course on Sunday.

"She's training fantastic," Pletcher said.

Honey Ryder could face males again

Pletcher said he would attempt to separate Honey Ryder and Safari Queen, the one-two finishers from Saturday's Sheepshead Bay Handicap, for future races. Pletcher said one would most likely be pointed to the $300,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware on July 16, a race Honey Ryder won last year.

Pletcher said he could point Safari Queen to that race and run Honey Ryder against males in the $750,000 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park on July 7. Honey Ryder was beaten a neck when second to Jambalaya in the Gulfstream Park Handicap against males in February.

"We've tried Honey Ryder with the colts, and she almost pulled it off," Pletcher said. "I'd say something like the United Nations would be possible for her."

Honey Ryder earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 for her Sheepshead Bay victory.

Shakespeare back, in new barn

The Grade 1 winner Shakespeare, unraced since finishing 12th of 13 in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park, is on the comeback trail. Previously trained by Bill Mott, Shakespeare is now with Kiaran McLaughlin.

Last Saturday, Shakespeare worked three furlongs in 37.64 seconds over Belmont's main track. It was his first recorded workout since Feb. 1, 2006.

Shakespeare won the first five races of his career - including the Turf Classic Invitational in 2005 - before his bad race in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He worked twice in January of 2006, but Mott wasn't happy with the way the colt was training and eventually sent him back to owner Frank Justice's Dell Ridge Farm.

"We got him April 15, but he had quite a good bottom under him," McLaughlin said. "He's doing real well. We made the work tab with him, and he'll work weekly till he's ready."

McLaughlin has also taken over the training of Praying for Cash, who won the Grade 3 Long Branch Stakes last year and who finished second in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. Praying for Cash has not run since finishing fifth in the Perryville last Oct. 13 at Keeneland.

High Finance sizzles in allowance

High Finance relished his return to Belmont Park and a drop to allowance competition on Sunday, rolling to an eight-length victory while running a mile in 1:33.54. He earned a whopping 114 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He probably needs a vacation," trainer Rick Violette quipped.

Naturally, Violette was quite pleased with the performance, though he obviously wishes it had come in one of the three graded stakes in which High Finance had run earlier this year. Violette believes High Finance should have won the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector, where he was in tight along the rail for the early part of the race.

"It took a little bit of the courage out of him," Violette said.

Violette said he wasn't sure where High Finance would run next. The Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park on June 23 is possible, though Flashy Bull - owned by the same West Pont Stable syndicate that owns High Finance - is being pointed to that race as well.

* Eddie Martin Jr. began a 10-day suspension on Tuesday related to a careless-riding incident on March 25 at Aqueduct. That race also resulted in Eibar Coa receiving a 10-day suspension, which he has already served.