11/12/2008 1:00AM

Lake unexpectedly returns to circuit

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When trainer Scott Lake decided to ship out of New York 20 months ago, he had no intentions of coming back. But then Lake received an offer he felt he couldn't refuse.

When Aqueduct's inner-track meet opens on Dec. 3, Lake will have approximately 25 horses stabled in New York, the majority for owner Mike Repole. Repole, one of the founders of the company that makes Vitaminwater, is the fourth-leading owner in the country in wins (113) and the second-leading owner on this circuit with 32 wins.

"I'm heading back and I don't think it's just for the winter,'' Lake said Wednesday. "Repole offered me a bunch of horses, wanted to have me in New York. He's too strong of an owner to say no to. I'm basically doing it for him and [owner] Ben Mondello.''

Since 2002, Lake has finished first or second in the country in races won, including 2006, when he led all trainers with 528 wins. Lake also led in that category in 2003 with 455 victories. In the other years, he finished second to Steve Asmussen.

Lake, who dominates the Mid-Atlantic circuit, averaged 55 wins on this circuit from 2004-06 before getting out at the end of March 2007.

"We were spread out kind of thin. I was tired and needed a break,'' said Lake, who at that time had horses stabled at eight tracks.

Repole, a native of Queens, N.Y., has grown his stable to 115 horses. His primary trainer is Bruce Levine, but he also utilizes Tom Albertrani, Greg DiPrima, and Bruce Brown. Repole began using Lake three months ago in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"He does a great job," Repole said. "I told him I was looking to get bigger in New York. To me, it's the most competitive racing in the country, it's the place everybody has their eye on. We talked about it, met a couple of times. I told him my relationship with Bruce is strong, Bruce is going to have 20 to 25 horses, but I want another 20 to 25 horses in New York. He's the guy I can team up with and get him 20 to 25 horses. If I'm going to compete in New York, I'd like to have Bruce Levine and Scott Lake on my team.''

While Repole is known for having a claiming outfit, he did purchase 27 yearlings at auction this year.

"I love winning races,'' Repole said. "I think I'm fourth-leading owner in the country, but at the end of the day a win in New York counts as three wins compared to winning at other tracks.''

Jerkens out of hospital, back at barn

Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens was released from the Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation Center on Wednesday and his first stop - surprise, surprise - was his Belmont Park barn.

Assistant trainer Fernando Abreu took out all of the horses to show Jerkens.

"They looked great,'' Jerkens said by phone a few hours later.

Jerkens, 79, underwent surgery on Oct. 20 to repair two heart valves, and then spent 10 days in the rehabilitation facility. He said he is weak, but hopes to come out to the barn for about an hour a day.

As usual, Jerkens will spend the winter in south Florida, though when he can ship himself down there is not certain.

"We have to check with the doctors,'' Jerkens said. "I don't think I'll be able to go before Dec. 1.''

Grand Champion eyes Fall Highweight

Allen's son, Jimmy, will have a busy Thanksgiving holiday, running several horses in stakes races at Aqueduct. Which races he will be represented in, however, remains to be determined.

The one certainty is that Grand Champion, last year's Fall Highweight winner, will seek to defend that title in the traditional Thanksgiving Day feature on Nov. 27. Grand Champion is coming off a 2 1/2-length victory in a classified allowance race on Nov. 6, when he ran six furlongs in 1:10 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104. It was his first race in blinkers in his 15th career start.

"He just didn't look like he had any speed anymore,'' Jerkens said. "Older horses, they get kind of smart; I usually don't buy into that, but every once in a while you get one that goes through the motions when you know they can do better.''

Meanwhile, plans are fluid for Storm Play and Zaftig. The 3-year-old colt Storm Play, who is 3 for 3 including a 6 1/4-length victory in the Best of Luck Stakes on Oct. 29, is nominated to the Grade 3 Discovery on Nov. 22 and will be nominated to the Grade 1, $300,000 Cigar Mile on Nov. 29. The 3-year-old filly Zaftig, winner of the Grade 1 Acorn, will be nominated to both the Grade 2 Top Flight on Nov. 28 and the Cigar Mile. The $150,000 Top Flight is also run at one mile, but is half the purse of the Cigar.

Two weeks out from the race, the prospective Cigar field includes Arson Squad, Bribon, Harlem Rocker, Kodiak Kowboy, Tale of Ekati, Visionaire, and Wanderin Boy. Chatain and Into Mischief are possible.

Santagata on hiatus for now

He won't say he's officially retired, but jockey Nick Santagata is preparing to take at least take a winter break.

Santagata, who has won 4,143 races since his career began in 1977, has begun working as a valet in the Aqueduct jockeys' room. He also will gallop horses in the morning. He rode one mount at Philadelphia Park on Monday and may ride one or two more in the coming weeks, but he basically won't ride this winter.

A mainstay on the New Jersey circuit for years, Santagata has spent the last few years riding in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"I'm just going to give it up for a while. I'm not going to retire,'' Santagata said between races Wednesday. "I don't want to say I'm going to retire then I go back. I'm just going to downsize. Don't get me wrong, I feel good, I know I could go another couple of years, but you run out of horses.''

Santagata, 51, said he's starting to see the sons and daughters of jockeys he used to ride against, including Joe Rocco Jr. and Jacqueline Davis.

Santagata said his main goal is to eventually become a jockey agent.

Chestoria, By the Light win stakes

Chestoria, who had one horse beaten turning for home, rallied stoutly down the center of the Aqueduct turf course under Alan Garcia to win the $71,000 Fairy Garden Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over 5-2 favorite Jade Queen on Wednesday. It was 1 1/4 lengths back to Waquoit's Love in third.

It was the fifth win from 13 starts for Chestoria, a New York-bred daughter of Chester House owned by E EL R Stable and trained by Billy Badgett.

Chestoria covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.20 over a turf course labeled good and returned $11.20.

Earlier on the card, By the Light ($3.20) took over soon after the start under Edgar Prado and cruised to a one-length victory over Weathered in the $67,200 Flip's Pleasure Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares.

By the Light, owned by Jay Em Ess Stable and trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., covered the mile in 1:36.83. It was her seventh win from 10 career starts.

It was one of three wins on the card for Prado.