08/19/2003 11:00PM

Johar making long-awaited return in stakes

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Johar was in the best form of his career in February when a shoulder injury put him out of training.

Victories in the Oak Tree and Hollywood derbies last fall and the San Marcos Stakes against older horses in January had made Johar a top contender for the major turf stakes of 2003.

He still has a chance to achieve that goal.

Johar makes his comeback in Friday's $75,000 Harry F. Brubaker Handicap at Del Mar. While the colt's three-race winning streak could be in jeopardy, trainer Richard Mandella feels that the restricted Brubaker Handicap is the ideal prep for two major races in the fall at Santa Anita - the $250,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap on Sept. 28 and the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf on Oct. 25.

"He shouldn't be ready to run, but he's gotten ready quickly. I think he'll be ready for this," Mandella said. "This should set him up."

Owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., Johar has won 5 of 12 starts and $672,215. Although he went through a five-race losing streak in the spring and summer of 2002, the span included runner-up finishes in three stakes, including the Del Mar Derby.

While Johar's come-from-behind rally failed during that span, it was the ideal style in his three stakes wins last fall and winter. Johar showed a remarkable rally in the San Marcos, a 1 1/4-mile turf race, to beat stablemate The Tin Man by a head. The Tin Man returned a month later to win the San Luis Obispo Handicap.

By then, Johar was sidelined following a nuclear scan that revealed a stress fracture, Mandella said. The injury did not require surgery, only rest.

The Brubaker is run over 1 1/16 miles on turf and is restricted to horses who have not won a first-place purse of $45,000 or more in a stakes at a mile or over since March 1. In other words, the Brubaker has drawn five horses who have been losing stakes or are returning from layoffs.

Sarafan will be wel backed. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Sarafan won the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap here in 2002 but is winless in his last six starts, including narrow decisions in the Arlington Million and Japan Cup last year. In his only start this year, Sarafan was third in an allowance race at Hollywood Park in May.

The other three runners have started at this meeting. Investor's Dream and Nicobar were fourth and 10th in the restricted Wickerr Handicap. Fateful Dream was fourth in the Eddie Read.