05/21/2001 12:00AM

Hap whistles in Dixie off 6 1/2-month layoff


BALTIMORE - Bill Mott's prowess with layoff horses once again was on display Saturday at Pimlico as he saddled Hap to victory in the $200,000 Grade 2 Dixie Handicap off a 6 1/2-month layoff.

And he did it against a field that included defending Dixie champion Quiet Resolve and North East Bound, recent winner of the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.

Hap, a 5-year-old son of Theatrical owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, had not been out since finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Mile last Nov. 4. He had ankle surgery over the winter to remove a chip, which put back his training by 30 days. The extra time didn't bother Mott, who noted that Hap has run well fresh in the past.

"I had a half dozen horses to choose from and I really thought he was my best chance," said Mott, who won this race in 1994 with Paradise Creek and in 1998 with Yagli. "I knew he ran well fresh, he was doing good, working well. We had enough work in him. We kind of pointed him to this race for a while."

North East Bound, the 124-pound highweight under Jose Velez Jr., maintained a clear advantage over Watchman's Warning through fractions of 24.12 seconds, 48.41, and 1:12.80. After stumbling at the break, Hap, under Jerry Bailey, raced close up in fourth position, just outside of Quiet Resolve.

Around the turn, Bailey sent Hap toward the front and he opened up a clear advantage in upper stretch and held off the late run of Make No Mistake, who finished 1 1/4 lengths back. It was another 1 1/2 lengths to Cynics Beware, who got third by a head over 8-5 favorite Quiet Resolve.

Hap, who is now 5 for 5 at nine furlongs, covered the distance in 1:48.56 and returned $7.20.

Mott wasn't sure where he would run Hap next. Mott did say this year he would try to stretch him out to a 1 1/4 miles as opposed to last year when he tried to shorten him up to a mile.

Distaff: Serra Lake on the rail

Serra Lake closed with a rush along the rail to nail heavily favored Jostle in the final jumps of the $200,000 Pimlico Distaff Handicap.

Ridden by Pat Day, Serra Lake paid $9.40 after rallying from fifth in a field of six fillies and mares. Serra Lake, a 4-year-old Seattle Slew filly bred and owned by Emory Hamilton, saved ground the entire way.

"She kind of lunged right at the wire to win it," said Day.

Jostle, the 7-10 favorite, wore down front-running Prized Stamp to take a short lead in the final furlong, but was unable to resist Serra Lake's late run. Prized Stamp finished third, another half-length back.

"That's why they call it the golden rail, isn't it?" said John Servis, trainer of Jostle, of Serra Lake's run.

Mike Smith, rider of Jostle, said his mount "didn't see that horse on the inside, and neither did I."

Winning trainer Shug McGaughey was not present because he was at Belmont Park to run Atelier and Country Hideaway in the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap.

Serra Lake now has won six of 11 starts, with the Distaff marking her first stakes win. She finished in 1:50.22 for the 1 1/8 miles over a fast track.

The 3-1 exacta paid $23 and the 3-1-2 trifecta paid $97.60.

Schaefer: Perfect Cat's graded score

Perfect Cat, who has developed into one of the better older horses on the East Coast, got his first graded stakes victory, overcoming a wide trip to win the Grade 3 $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap.

Perfect Cat, who was four paths wide on the final turn, wore down pacesetter Rize to win by

1 1/4 lengths in 1:49.55 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track. Judge's Case was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Jerry Bailey rode Perfect Cat, who paid $4.80 as the 7-5 favorite.

Mark Hennig trains Perfect Cat, a 4-year-old Tabasco Cat colt who was bred and is owned by Edward Evans. He had finished second to Broken Vow in the Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland in his last start on April 27. Hennig did not decide to run Perfect Cat Saturday until midweek, after first considering running him in a tougher spot, the June 2 Massachusetts Handicap.

"He had run awful hard this spring and deserved to win a stakes race," Hennig said.

Hennig said Perfect Cat might start next in the Brooklyn Handicap on June 10 at Belmont Park.

Sir Barton: It's Burning Roma

Trainer Tony Dutrow did not sound like a trainer who had just won a $100,000 race on Preakness Day.

While Burning Roma persevered through the stretch to win the Sir Barton Stakes by three-quarters of a length over Mi Amigo Guelo, his headstrong ways were disconcerting to Dutrow.

"Just cause they win doesn't mean everything went right," Dutrow said. "This horse trains so kindly in the morning, but he comes over here in the afternoon and he wants to run off. He was probably the best horse today, so he was able to run the way he did and still win. But if you want to take the next step, you've got to race properly. He doesn't want to settle."

Burning Roma was three lengths off the early pace, but once he saw daylight down the backside he tugged Rick Wilson to the leaders after a half-mile in 48.60 seconds. Burning Roma stuck his head in front at the five-sixteenths pole and then outdueled a game Mi Amigo Guelo through the lane. Burning Roma covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.03 and returned $4 as the even-money favorite.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Jay Privman