03/08/2002 12:00AM

Dollar Bill wins in return


NEW ORLEANS - Making his first start since the Travers Stakes last summer, Dollar Bill won a hard-fought victory in the ninth race at Fair Grounds on Friday.

Dollar Bill, who had run in five straight Grade 1 races, scored a neck win over Storm Cruiser, a former claimer, in a high-class allowance race run over one mile and 40 yards. Well back during the first turn, Dollar Bill made steady progress while racing inside on the backstretch, moved to the lead turning for home, and won a stretch-long battle with Storm Cruiser, who set the pace in the race.

With his co-owner Gary West watching with trainer Dallas Stewart, Dollar Bill made a successful comeback from surgery - described by his connections as minor - to remove a bone chip in his left front ankle.

"This horse has trained to give you confidence in him coming back," Stewart said. "He's had good solid works and galloped out good."

Dollar Bill, who finished third in two Grade 1's last year, has worked steadily at Fair Grounds since mid-December. His name popped up as a possible starter in the Whirlaway Handicap and the New Orleans Handicap earlier this meet, but his connections passed those races to come back in an easier spot.

"We were real patient with this horse," West said. "Hopefully that will pay off."

Dollar Bill has never been a horse with much speed, and the distance of Friday's race was shorter than his best, but Dollar Bill gutted out a win nonetheless.

"It was a good race for him," said jockey Robby Albarado. "He was forwardly placed right away. He drifted out a little turning for home, but he straightened out."

Neither Stewart nor West would commit to specific plans for Dollar Bill, saying only that they would consider options as wide-ranging as a trip to California.

Meanwhile, Connected, another graded stakes horse making his first start of the year, closed ground late in the race to finish third. Trainer David Carroll had not pushed Connected to make this race, and was pleased with his horse's race. "I was very happy with him," Carroll said. "It's on to Keeneland."