12/30/2004 12:00AM

Diligent Prospect wins return

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Consolidator, winning the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity on Oct. 9, will likely begin his 3-year-old campaign in February, said trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Diligent Prospect returned from a seven-month layoff to win an over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Thursday, a race that trainer Doug O'Neill says will be the colt's last sprint for awhile.

Ridden by Jon Court, Diligent Prospect ($4.20) stalked Processor to the turn, took the lead entering the stretch, and won by two lengths over Stormin Away. Diligent Prospect was timed in 1:23.30 on a muddy track. While the final time was not particularly quick, O'Neill said he was not concerned.

"Seven-eighths off a layoff is not the ideal distance," O'Neill said. "We told Jon, 'If you can, turn it into a six-furlong race.' He was going easy."

Diligent Prospect had not started since emerging from a maiden victory at Hollywood Park last May with sore shins.

O'Neill and owners Royce Jaime and Ty Leatherman said they would like to try Diligent Prospect around two turns but do not have a specific goal. Diligent Prospect is a Florida-bred, but O'Neill said he would not run him in the the Sunshine Millions Dash over six furlongs Jan. 29.

"I don't want to shorten him up," he said. "The owners want to go two turns."

Rain moves Hill Rise back

The $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes, scheduled for a mile on turf Saturday, has been postponed until Jan. 15 because of concern that continued wet weather would have forced the race to be transferred to dirt. If that had happened, very few of the horses who had been entered on Thursday would have run.

"It doesn't look like there are four that will run on dirt," said racing secretary Rick Hammerle. "We would have loved to get those horses out there."

Santa Anita was hit by seven inches of rain from Sunday through Thursday, according to track superintendents. There was no turf racing on Wednesday or Thursday.

The nominees for the Hill Rise included Littlebitofzip and Chattahoochee War, the second- and fourth-place finishers in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27; Eastern Sand, the runner-up in the Appleton Juvenile Turf Stakes at Calder on Nov. 13; and the European imports Fongtastic and Haute Ransom.

Slumping Britt's Jules in El Conejo

Britt's Jules, a three-time stakes winner in Louisiana in 2004, is the lone shipper for Sunday's $100,000 El Conejo Handicap over 5 1/2 furlongs.

Trainer Eric Guillot said he is hoping to pull an upset with Britt's Jules, who is winless in his last six starts. Britt's Jules won the Excalibur Stakes over a mile and 70 yards at Louisiana Downs on June 26. The highlights of his campaign over the second half of the year were a second in the Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park and third-place finishes in the West Virginia and Super derbies.

Britt's Jules has been based at Santa Anita for the last two weeks. He finished sixth in the Oklahoma Derby over 1 1/8 miles at Remington Park in his last start Nov. 21.

Guillot said Britt's Jules has a tough assignment in a field that will include McCann's Mojave, the winner of the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap last March, and Areyoutalkintome, the winner of the California Cup Sprint in October. Other candidates include Hombre Rapido, Revello, and Woke up Dreamin.

"I'll let them run the first half-mile, and I'll run the last three-sixteenths," Guillot said.

Festival targets Santa Maria

Festival, who won her first U.S. stakes in the Grade 3 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20, will return in the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 13. The Grade 1 Santa Maria is run over 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Dahlia.

Festival broke a lengthy losing streak in the Dahlia, which drew a weak field. She had been uncompetitive racing on turf in Japan through most of 2004 before joining trainer Paddy Gallagher's stable in the fall.

The Dahlia was originally scheduled for turf but was switched to the main track after jockeys expressed concern about the condition of the turf course. As a result, several leading contenders were scratched, leaving a field of five.

Gallagher said the Santa Maria will show whether Festival belongs in such top-class races.

"We need to find out if that was a fluke or not," he said of the Dahlia. "She had run on dirt in Japan as a 2-year-old. I was hoping she had a good memory."

Consolidator sets February return

Consolidator, who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October, is being pointed for a February launch to his 3-year-old campaign, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

Consolidator has not started since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Purchased for $1.25 million at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale, Consolidator has won 2 of 7 starts, highlighted by a victory in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 9.

In the BC Juvenile, Consolidator finished 2 1/4 lengths behind race winner Wilko.

There are two important stakes for 3-year-olds in the first half of February at Santa Anita that could be possibilities for Consolidator - the $100,000 Sham Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 5 or the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs on Feb. 13.

O'Neill sets schedule for trio

O'Neill trains the 4-year-olds who finished second through fourth behind Rock Hard Ten in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 - Lava Man, Harvard Avenue, and Perfect Moon.

The three are being pointed for different races throughout the nation in coming weeks.

Harvard Avenue is likely to start in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes against 4-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 15.

O'Neill said he wants to keep Perfect Moon in sprints. The $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap over six furlongs on Jan. 23 is a possible goal.

Lava Man will be pointed for the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 29.