07/03/2001 11:00PM

Freedom Crest: Much to prove

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer Richard Baltas has a succinct description of Freedom Crest's performance in the San Antonio Handicap in February.

"It was a disaster," Baltas said.

Freedom Crest finished last of eight in the San Antonio Handicap and was given a five-month break. His vacation ends on Saturday when he is a leading contender in the $100,000 Bel Air Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"His blood came back bad, so I gave him plenty of time," Baltas said. "He's coming around again, and I think I've got him fit."

Baltas said that Freedom Crest physically benefited from the time off. Before the San Antonio, Freedom Crest won the most important race of his career, the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita, which capped a three-race winning streak for him. It was a remarkable winter campaign for the 5-year-old Freedom Crest, who was claimed for $32,000 out of a maiden race in June 1999.

The Bel Air is the final major dirt race for older horses at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, and a springboard to the Del Mar meeting. While Freedom Crest is nominated to the San Diego Handicap and Pacific Classic at Del Mar, Baltas said "it's a longshot" that he will run in them.

First, Freedom Crest has to prove he's back in top form in the Bel Air, which is run over 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the San Pasqual Handicap.

"If he doesn't run well, I'll be disappointed," Baltas said. "But at least I've got some experience. I don't think I'll climb the rails if he wins like I did the last time."

McCarron gets days

Jockey Chris McCarron on Wednesday received a three-day suspension from Hollywood Park stewards for his role in the incident that resulted in the disqualification of Futural from first to third in the Hollywood Gold Cup last Sunday.

Futural veered in before the eighth pole, bumping Skimming. After a lengthy inquiry, Futural was disqualified and placed behind Skimming. Runner-up Aptitude was put up into the win. McCarron was cited by stewards Pete Pedersen, George Slender, and Tom Ward for "failure to make the proper effort to maintain a straight course."

The suspension begins Friday and runs through Sunday. McCarron will be able to ride in graded stakes, which are exempt from suspensions.

Big plans for Tempera

Tempera, who won her maiden race in Wednesday's first race, will be pointed to the $150,000 Sorrento Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 4 at Del Mar.

Owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Eoin Harty, Tempera ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.33, winning by three lengths over Newport Beach, a first-time starter trained by Bob Baffert.

"I expected nothing less," Harty said. "I think she's the best 2-year-old filly I have."

Tempera was a troubled third in her debut on June 10 and was one of Harty's first starters of 2001. He has divisions at Arlington Park, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita.

Figuring out Tiznow

McCarron will gallop Tiznow on Friday morning at Santa Anita in an effort to give trainer Jay Robbins more clues as to the status of the 2000 Horse of the Year.

For the last two weeks, Tiznow has been in light training at Santa Anita. At times he has galloped well and at other times he has not jogged fluently, showing lingering effects of a back problem that forced him out of training in late April, Robbins said.

On Wednesday, Tiznow galloped 1 1/4 miles to Robbins's satisfaction. "He galloped quite well," he said. "He looked like himself."

Congaree, Queenie Belle work

Congaree, the Wood Memorial winner and third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, worked seven furlongs in 1:24 at Santa Anita on Wednesday, the fastest of five works at the distance. Trained by Bob Baffert, Congaree will be a short-priced favorite in the $500,000 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 15.

Queenie Belle, the winner of the California Cup Matron last fall, worked five furlongs in 1:01.40. She is expected to return at Del Mar.

* Starrer, the winner of the Princess Stakes on June 16, is under consideration for the $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park on July 21, trainer David Hofmans said. Hofmans will decide between the Coaching Club and the $150,000 Hollywood Oaks on July 14 at Hollywood Park, and said the purse may be a deciding factor.

* Bettors chasing Hollywood Park's pick six carryover of $691,000 bet more than $2.8 million, creating a total pool of $3,586,980.