11/16/2007 1:00AM

Few want to face Midnight Lute in Cigar Mile

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - Midnight Lute made a strong late run to beat nine rivals in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last month at Monmouth Park.

The 4-year-old Midnight Lute, trained by Bob Baffert, could face a much smaller field next Saturday at Aqueduct in a bid for a third straight Grade 1 victory in the $300,000 Cigar Mile.

The Cigar Mile is the main attraction of the four-day HolidayFest weekend, the last major stakes action of the year in New York.

As of Friday, stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes had only three confirmed starters: Midnight Lute, Daaher, and Tasteyville.

Midnight Lute will be looking for his first win beyond seven furlongs. He has thrived on the East Coast, having captured the Forego at Saratoga in his start before the Breeders' Cup.

Daaher, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, has also won two in a row. The 3-year-old Daaher is in the best form of his six-race career, having most recently won the Grade 3 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 7.

Tasteyville will be tested for class after easily beating three rivals here in the slop in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap.

HolidayFest kicks off Thursday with the $100,000 Fall Highweight at six furlongs. Expected runners include Bishop Court Hill, City Attraction, Grand Champion, Introspect, Joey P., and Park Avenue Ball.

On Friday, fillies and mares are featured in the Grade 2, $150,000 Top Flight Handicap at one mile, with Baby Bird, Cindy's Mom, Golden Velvet, Lost Etiquette, Mini Sermon, and Pool Land among the likely starters.

In addition to the Cigar Mile, the Saturday card also includes the Grade 3, $100,000 Discovery Handicap for 3-year-olds and a pair of Grade 2, $200,000 stakes at 1 1/8 miles for 2-year-olds: the Remsen and the Demoiselle for fillies.

On target for the 1 1/8-mile Discovery are Buffalo Man, Dr. V's Magic, Now a Victor, Pink Viper, and Shopton Lane.

The projected Remsen lineup includes Atoned, Big Truck, Court Vision, Giant Moon, Springs Road, and Z Fortune.

Pointing for the Demoiselle are Be Fruitful, Elusive Lady, Expect the End, Meriwether Jessica, Sunday Elegance, and Sunday Holiday.

HolidayFest concludes Sunday with the $75,000 Montauk Handicap for New York-breds.

Buffalo Man continues comeback

Buffalo Man was a Triple Crown contender earlier this year until a condylar fracture requiring surgery sent him to the sidelines.

Trainer Cam Gambolati was heartened to see Buffalo Man earn a game second in his comeback, Aqueduct's Wild Again Stakes on Nov. 1.

Gambolati nominated Buffalo Man to the Cigar Mile but is leaning toward the Discovery against 3-year-olds.

"We're being realistic," Gambolati said. "For a second start off a layoff, it seems like a good progression. I thought the one-mile race set him up good, and you'd have to think he'd improve off that. He's doing well.

"The way the retirements are this year, if he just improves a little bit, he can be a force to be reckoned with next year if everything goes your way."

Hennig reaches 1,000 for career

Mark Hennig reached the 1,000-win plateau last Saturday night when Dinner Break scored at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Hennig said he got a call from Mike Lakow, former racing secretary for the New York Racing Association, "reminding me that most of those wins came in pretty solid races," Hennig said. "I was fortunate they weren't in $5,000 claimers. I had never really thought about it from that perspective."

A son of trainer John Hennig, Mark Hennig served apprenticeships under Jack Van Berg and D. Wayne Lukas before opening his own stable in 1993.

Among his most memorable wins, Hennig lists Summer Colony's maiden romp by 32 3/4 lengths at Saratoga in the summer of 2001 and Eddington's victory in the 2005 Pimlico Special.

Track conditions improve

Racing resumed here Friday following Thursday's cancellation, which came after only two races on a sloppy, sealed strip.

Moisture was still evident in the track during the Friday morning workouts, but the combination of sunshine and strong wind had helped to dry it out. It was listed as good for the first race on Friday; the two grass races on the card were shifted to the main track.

* Edgar Prado scratched off his mounts Friday. "He has the flu," said agent Bob Frieze. "Hopefully, he'll be okay for the weekend."