02/18/2003 1:00AM

Desormeaux to try Keeneland meet


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Kent Desormeaux said earlier this week that he plans to leave California to ride the spring meet at Keeneland, which runs April 4-25.

Desormeaux, 32, said the move from California is temporary, but he may spend time later this spring riding at Belmont Park or Churchill Downs. He has traveled to Keeneland to ride in major stakes races in past years, but has never been based there.

"That little Keeneland meet is like Del Mar, it can be so profitable," Desormeaux said. "That's what I care about now, is the good horses. You ride the first and the last to ride the horses in the feature."

Through Monday, Desormeaux was tied for seventh in the standings at the Santa Anita meet with 19 wins. None of the wins have come in stakes races.

Desormeaux and his agent, Tom Knust, emphasized that they would travel to California, if necessary, to ride in major stakes races during April.

"We've had a lot of trainers ask if we'd consider going back for the whole meeting," Knust said of Keeneland. "As we've gotten closer we've talked to trainers and gotten a good response."

Some of the trainers that Desormeaux rides for in Southern California will participate at Keeneland, including Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale. Desormeaux did not ride for Frankel for several months earlier this winter and last fall, but had the mount on You in the Santa Maria Handicap on Sunday.

"One thing about racing is we follow the fast horses," Desormeaux said. "Last year, I felt like a fool for not going to New York. Frankel was my biggest client. If I'd have gone up there, I might have a different kind of year.

"Now, I've ridden my first horse back for him. Hopefully we'll continue to make everyone happy."

The upcoming trip to Keeneland is not the first time that Desormeaux has left California in the spring. In April, May, and June of 2001, he rode in Japan, but returned to full-time riding in California in late June of that year.

This year, Desormeaux said that regardless of where he rides in May and June, he plans to ride the Del Mar meet in late summer.

"I live here and this is home," Desormeaux said.

Euros meet in San Marino

Champion Lodge and Requete, European imports who both won their first start in the United States in January, are the leading contenders for the $75,000 San Marino Handicap, Thursday's fifth race.

Requete won an optional claiming race at 1 1/4 miles on turf on Jan 23. Requete, a 4-year-old, closed from last in a field of 10 in the final quarter-mile to win by three-quarters of a length.

Champion Lodge won a one-mile turf race on Jan. 25, a race in which he was eligible to be claimed for $100,000. Trained by Sandy Shulman, Champion Lodge was competitive in handicap races from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles on turf in England last year.

"He ran a great race in his first start," Shulman said. "We liked him because he looked like he had good form and can go long."

Both Champion Lodge and Requete will be well supported in the wagering. Bobby Frankel trains Requete and also starts Sumitas, who won the 2001 Knickerbocker Handicap at Belmont Park.

Two other entrants in the field of seven are returning off wins. Weed Runner seeks his fourth straight after winning two claiming races last fall and a first-condition allowance race at one mile on Jan. 29. Moomtazz won a $50,000 claiming race at 1 1/4 miles on turf at 21-1 on Jan. 4.

The San Marino was scheduled to be run last Sunday, but was postponed to Thursday because of recent rain. The race is run at 1 1/4 miles on turf, and track officials wanted to keep the race at that distance as a prep for the San Luis Rey Stakes on March 15.

Congaree works six furlongs

Congaree, who is pointing for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1, worked six furlongs in 1:10.60 on Monday.

On the strength of three consecutive wins in major stakes since late November, Congaree will be favored in the Santa Anita Handicap, the richest race of the winter-spring meet. The 5-year-old Congaree won the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct last November and the San Pasqual and San Antonio handicaps at this meet.

"He's doing awesome right now," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's doing better now than before the last race."

In Monday's workout, Congaree set fractions of 24 and 47.20 seconds. He galloped out seven furlongs in 1:23.20 under exercise rider Dana Barnes.

The Big Cap is expected to include defending champion Milwaukee Brew, Kudos, Piensa Sonando, Pleasantly Perfect, and Sligo Bay. Kudos, second to Congaree in the San Pasqual Handicap, will be ridden by Julie Krone, according to trainer Richard Mandella.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said a final decision has not been made regarding the participation of Medaglia d'Oro, the winner of the Strub Stakes on Feb. 1.

Frankel is also considering the $6 million Dubai World Cup in the Middle East for Medaglia d'Oro, but is following the political situation in the region.

"Right now, I'm leaning to Dubai," Frankel said. "The horse will be training to run in the Big Cap if I choose that race."

Domestic Dispute breezes

Domestic Dispute, the winner of the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 18, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 on Monday. Domestic Dispute, trained by Baffert, is being pointed for the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 16.

Kafwain, another of Baffert's top 3-year-olds, will be sent to Fair Grounds for the $750,000 Louisiana Derby on March 9. The runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October at Arlington Park, Kafwain won the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 1 in his only start this year.

Hammerle named racing secretary

Rick Hammerle has been named racing secretary at Santa Anita. Mike Harlow will continue to head Santa Anita's racing department as director of racing.

Hammerle, 45, has served as assistant racing secretary and stakes coordinator since joining Santa Anita in 2000.

Hammerle previously worked at racetracks on the East Coast.

* Sky Jack, the winner of the 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup, has returned to training with Doug O'Neill at Hollywood Park. Last summer, Sky Jack was turned out because of a knee injury. O'Neill said that Sky Jack will tack-walk at the barn for 30 days before serious training begins. He said Sky Jack could be ready by summertime.

* Partners Choice, who cost $2.5 million as a yearling in 1999 for Thoroughbred Corp. and B. Wayne Hughes, won a $48,000 maiden race on Monday. Run on the hillside turf course, the maiden race was the second start for the 5-year-old Partners Choice, who debuted last March.