05/30/2006 11:00PM

Hurtak credits aide for huge turnaround

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Jim Lisa
Siphon City, Elvis Trujillo up, wins the Memorial Day with a shoe missing.

MIAMI - Most trainers are quick to grab all the accolades after winning a race - especially a graded stakes like Monday's Grade 3 Memorial Day Handicap at Calder. But trainer Dan Hurtak was more than willing to give much of the credit for Siphon City's game victory over the more seasoned, Grade 1-placed Congrats to his longtime assistant Donna Green.

"I claimed this horse for $75,000 during the 2005 Gulfstream meet, and he used to be a little bit of a head case," said Hurtak. "He's already had to be scratched twice at the gate since we got him. It's been a team effort to get him to the point he's at now, and I have to give the credit to Donna. She's worked with him and really gotten him to settle down."

The Memorial Day was Siphon City's graded-stakes debut and only the second stakes start of his career. Three weeks earlier, Siphon City, a 4-year-old son of Siphon, had won an overnight stakes here by eight lengths.

"I think he's a potential champion horse, but one who if you give him an excuse he'll take advantage of it tenfold," said Green, who has also had her own trainer's license for many years. "The key was getting him to learn to relax. That type of thing can easily turn a claimer into a stakes winner, especially if they get enough confidence in themselves. He just saddles and behaves 100 percent better now, and as a result has more energy for when it counts during his races."

What makes Siphon City's performance on Monday even more amazing is the fact that he lost his right front shoe somewhere during the race.

"I couldn't believe it when we got back to the spit box and the shoe was gone," said Green. "I've seen horses lose back shoes and win all the time. But I've never had one lose a front shoe and win."

Green said the objective before Monday's race was to get Siphon City possibly good enough to run this summer at Monmouth Park or even Saratoga. Now that he's a graded-stakes winner, it is almost certain the vastly improved colt will head north in the weeks to come.

"Obviously going to Monmouth would probably be the easier spot, although it would be a lot more fun to bring him to Saratoga," said Green. "I doubt we'd look for a graded stakes in New York, but perhaps he would be able to fit into a small handicap there this summer."

Congrats ran a big race in defeat in his debut for trainer Kathleen O'Connell. Purchased privately earlier this year by Cloverleaf Farm as a stallion prospect, Congrats's first goal is to get his career earnings over the $1 million mark. His second-place money of $20,000 in the Memorial Day now puts Congrats less than $2,000 shy of that milestone.

Eventful holiday for Cruz

Jockey Manoel Cruz had himself a memorable Memorial Day, although not all the memories will be pleasant ones.

The afternoon started out well enough for Cruz, the meet's leading rider, as he won 4 of the first 7 races on the card to extend his lead in the standings over Abel Castellano Jr. and apprentice Jeffrey Sanchez. But it nearly ended in calamity after Cruz's mount, Dock, broke down suddenly while chasing the leader into the far turn in the afternoon's ninth race.

Surprisingly, Cruz escaped the scary-looking spill with only minor bumps and bruises. He even came right back to accept his remaining two mounts on the program, including Infinity Blue in the next race.

One of Cruz's four wins on the holiday card came aboard an odds-on favorite, Choctaw Charlie, who posted his fourth consecutive victory in the afternoon's seventh race. A 6-year-old son of Indian Charlie, Choctaw Charlie has been popular at the claim box both before and during his current streak. When trainer Antonio Cioffi claimed the veteran gelding for $10,000 following his win on Monday, it was the seventh time in the last eight starts that Choctaw Charlie has changed hands, dating back to Jan. 22 at Gulfstream Park.

O'Connell 2-year-olds still impressive

O'Connell continues to be red hot with her 2-year-olds. The trainer sent out four juvenile winners in as many days here two weeks ago, and notched another 2-year-old victory when El Bandido Rojo dominated a field of high-priced claiming rivals under jockey Dante Scocca in Tuesday's opener.

Unlike O'Connell's four previous 2-year-old winners, who were owned and bred by Gil Campbell's Stonehedge Farm, El Bandido Rojo is owned by Charles Spence.

Saffronista back on main track

Saffronista, a troubled fourth behind Silversider and El Bank Robber in the Georgia Oaks Stakes on turf May 7, returns to the main track and drops back in against allowance company in Friday's $28,000 main event.

Saffronista, a 3-year-old daughter of Ecton Park trained by Jose Pinchin, won the OBS Championship in Ocala by 11 lengths in her previous start and also captured a pair of two-turn races here at 2.