07/24/2005 11:00PM

Off last, three have good shot in stakes


DEL MAR, Calif. - In recent weeks in northern and Southern California, Cougar Mtn Lodge, Don Jaun Con, and Irish Bar won maiden races or stakes in a style that demanded attention.

The victories have pushed those 2-year-olds toward the fore of the statebred division and set up an intriguing showdown in Wednesday's $125,000 Graduation Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar.

, who won a maiden race by six lengths at Hollywood Park on June 25, will be a deserving favorite, but Don Jaun Con and Irish Bar deserve respect.

won the Everett Nevin Alameda County Futurity by 6 1/2 lengths at Pleasanton on July 3. Irish Bar, trained by Dan Hendricks, has the quickest turnaround of the three leading contenders: He won a maiden race for statebreds by five lengths at Hollywood Park on July 14.

Don Jaun Con drew post 3 in a field of seven that includes two maidens - Foxy Bench and Polly's Score.

Don Jaun Con's post position could give him an advantage, since the speedy Cougar Mtn Lodge and the quick Blaze It, who was fourth in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 16, have drawn the inside two posts. Don Jaun Con has ample speed and can shoot to the front or stalk the pace.

Then again, Cougar Mtn Lodge may be quick enough to overcome his rail post. Trained by Mike Mitchell, Cougar Mtn Lodge led throughout his recent maiden win, his fourth career start.

The race was Cougar Mtn Lodge's first start for Mitchell and owners Leonard and Yolanda Fishelberg, who bought him privately in early June.

William E. Morey, who trains Don Jaun Con, expects his gelding to be part of the race from the start.

Claimed for $32,000 after winning a maiden race at Golden Gate Fields on May 13, Don Jaun Con finished third in the Malcolm Anderson Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on June 18 after setting early an opening quarter-mile fraction of 20.97 seconds. In the Nevin Futurity, Don Jaun Con set fractions of 21.87 and 45.70 seconds before pulling away.

"The first time we ran him at Golden Gate, he ran head and head and ran hard the first quarter," Morey said. "That 20-and-change quarter hit him in the head in the last 100 yards.

"He wants to get out and roll, for sure," Morey said. "He's a really smart horse for a young horse."