08/26/2003 11:00PM

Hold That Tiger could return to U.S.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Hold That Tiger, who finished third in last October's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is expected to return to North America and take on Mineshaft in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 6.

Demi O'Byrne, the racing manager for owner Michael Tabor, said trainer Aidan O'Brien is also considering sending Statue of Liberty for the Woodward, but is more likely to just send Hold That Tiger.

"At the moment, there's a strong possibility Hold That Tiger would come,'' O'Byrne said Wednesday from Kentucky.

Jerry Bailey has been booked to ride whichever colt comes.

Hold That Tiger, a half-brother to 1996 Belmont Stakes winner Editor's Note, was one of Europe's best 2-year-olds. He won the Group 1 Grand Criterium at Longchamp and the Group 3 Railway Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland. In the Juvenile, Hold That Tiger broke slowly and was last for the first half-mile before closing strongly to be third.

Hold That Tiger has not been able to return to his juvenile form. He is winless in three starts, with his best performance being a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes at Ascot.

"He ran very well in that race,'' O'Byrne said. "He got into a bit of trouble and plenty of people felt he was an unlucky fourth and that he could have finished a lot closer.''

Hold That Tiger's last race was a ninth-place finish in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes on July 5 at Sandown.

If O'Brien decides to send Statue of Liberty, he would also be an interesting contender. Statue of Liberty is a half-brother to Lemon Drop Kid, the 1999 Belmont Stakes and 2000 Woodward winner. Statue of Liberty went 2 for 2 as a juvenile before being injured. After finishing eighth in the St. James's Palace, Statue of Liberty was beaten a head in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes on July 30.

"Statue of Liberty was our best 2-year-old until he got hurt,'' O'Byrne said.

O'Byrne said O'Brien is also considering sending horses to New York for the Man o'War Handicap, on the same card as the Woodward. O'Brien has nominated five to the Man o'War, including Hold That Tiger, and Powerscourt, recent winner of the Group 2 Great Voltigeur. Also nominated were Carpanetto, a listed winner in Ireland; Brian Boru, who won last year's Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes; and France, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.

Biancone makes plans for stakes runners

Brancusi, the last-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, will make his return to the races in Monday's Grade 3, $100,000 Saranac Handicap on the turf, trainer Patrick Biancone said.

Brancusi, who finished second in the Blue Grass Stakes, came out of the Derby with an injured foot. Brancusi shows four workouts leading up to the Saranac, including a six-furlong move on turf in 1:14.82 on Aug. 21 and a five-furlong move on dirt in 1:00.45 on Wednesday. The latter was the fastest of five at the distance.

"It took 105 days to get his foot right and perfect,'' Biancone said. "It doesn't mean he was doing nothing the whole time. We had to cut a big part of it out. We know he'll handle the grass. In fact, he likes it very much.''

In his last work prior to the Kentucky Derby, Brancusi worked on turf at Keeneland.

Biancone has laid out the plans for several of his other stakes winners as well. Zavata, who finished eighth in the Grade 1 King's Bishop, will make his next start in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 5 as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 26.

Biancone said Zavata came out of the King's Bishop in good order and that seven furlongs is just not a fit for that horse.

"He just doesn't have the style for that kind of race,'' Biancone said. "The only reason we tried seven furlongs is we would have had seven weeks to the next race. He'll be going to California in the middle of September.''

Whoopi Cat, winner of the Adirondack Stakes, is being pointed to the Grade 1 Matron at Belmont on Sept. 14. Pomeroy, who finished second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, will run in the Futurity at Belmont on the 14th or wait for the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 5.

Lukas to shorten up Proud Citizen

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has twice won the Breeders' Cup Sprint with horses who had run in distance races earlier that same year. Gulch won the 1988 BC Sprint after having placed in the Whitney and Iselin handicaps. Last year, Orientate won the Sprint after beginning his year in the Strub.

This year, Lukas hopes to make a BC Sprint candidate out of Proud Citizen, the runner-up in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, who comes out of a seventh-place finish in the Whitney. Proud Citizen, a son of Gone West, will make his next start in Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Forego Handicap at seven furlongs.

"We've had good luck shortening them up,'' Lukas said. "That's an intermediate race and I think that's a good spot for him. If he performs well there I might do an Orientate-type thing with him. We'll look at [the BC Sprint] pretty serious. At this time of year my job is to get the most production out of them, and obviously the Breeders' Cup is the most production you can get.''

Proud Citizen is winless in two starts at seven furlongs but did win a 7 1/2-furlong second-level allowance race in July at Churchill Downs. Proud Citizen on Wednesday blew out three furlongs in 36.02 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.

"He's awfully quick,'' Lukas said. "When you sharpen him he's quick.''

Sky Mesa back on track

Sky Mesa, who bruised the inside quarter of his left front foot when finishing last in the Travers, returned to the track Wednesday, jogging once around the Oklahoma training track.

"He jogged off a little stiff but seemed like he warmed up out of it,'' trainer John Ward said. "He's still got a tender heel. Our biggest fears are he's got a blind quarter crack.''

Ward said he would wait until he got back to Kentucky to further evaluate Sky Mesa's future.

Ward also reported that he scratched Hero's Tribute out of an allowance race on Monday due to a cracked heel. "The heel got inflamed," Ward said. "He wasn't going to run a good race. We'll let that thing settle down.''

Hero's Tribute won the Gulfstream Park Handicap earlier this year.

Gryder to change agents

Jockey Aaron Gryder will change agents when racing moves to Belmont Park next week. Gryder has hired veteran agent Vic Gilardi to replace Matt Muzikar. Gilardi has worked for, among others, jockeys Jorge Velasquez and Jorge Chavez.

Gryder has struggled at this meet, riding just four winners from 62 mounts through Wednesday.

"I need to try and regroup and rebuild,'' Gryder said. "Matt and I have a great relationship. Our success wasn't as great as our relationship became. We both understand that.''

* Sightseek, a winner of three consecutive Grade 1 races, worked five furlongs in 1:02.45 Wednesday over the main track. She is scheduled to run next in the Grade 1, $300,000 Ruffian Handicap on Sept. 13.

* Whitmore's Conn, the Sword Dancer winner, on Wednesday worked four furlongs in 49.04 seconds on turf. He is being pointed to the Man o' War.