06/13/2002 11:00PM

Esteemed Friend tries Longfellow

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - When 8-year-old Esteemed Friend dropped down to the $35,000 claiming level at Aqueduct on Jan. 17 - the second-lowest level of his career - there were many takers. Anthony Pyliotis, a New England-based owner, won the shake, and Esteemed Friend has since returned to a level reminiscent of the form he showed in winning the Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel in 1999.

Esteemed Friend, trained by Dimitrios Synnefias, has won three times since being claimed from trainer Scott Lake. He will ship in to Monmouth from his Rockingham Park base Sunday for the $50,000 Longfellow Stakes. The six-furlong Longfellow drew a field of nine older horses.

Esteemed Friend went to Suffolk Downs after being claimed and ran second in the $30,000 Private Terms Stakes only nine days later. He moved up to the $60,000 claiming level at Aqueduct next, and won his first of three consecutive victories.

He won an allowance and a stakes at Suffolk before running fourth in the $150,000 James B. Moseley Breeders' Cup Handicap on Massachusetts Handicap Day, June 1.

Pyliotis said he had his eye on Esteemed Friend for months while the horse ran in New York mid-level claiming races. Pyliotis has run at Monmouth a few times, he said, but never with much success.

"I took a chance with him, and it has turned out great," Pyliotis said. "He's probably one of the best horses I've ever had. With the way he is running right now, we'll be looking for stakes in the range of $50,000-$200,000 for him."

Wrangler has enjoyed a breakout season this year and figures to be the favorite in the Longfellow. A 4-year-old trained by James Jerkens, Wrangler moved up from allowance races last year to graded stakes this year. He started the year with three consecutive victories, including a win in the General George Handicap on Feb. 18, clearly his biggest career score. Since that win, he has two fourth-place finishes in tough stakes and the Longfellow may be an easier spot for him to get back on track. Eibar Coa will be aboard Wrangler.

Ticket to Freedom ran one of the quickest six furlongs of the meet on June 6, and is wheeled back quickly by trainer Bill Perry.

Ticket to Freedom went from last to first in his money allowance win and he will need a quick pace up front to set up a similar outcome.

Loaded Gun, Captain Red, Holiday Music, Run Kush Run, and Impeachthepro complete the field.

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