08/12/2004 12:00AM

Megan's Halo looks to regain her winning touch


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Last year's New England horse of the year Megan's Halo looks for her first win of 2004 when she takes on a full field in the $40,000 Drumtop Stakes, one of the biggest open stakes of the summer at Suffolk Downs.

Megan's Halo was voted horse of the year by the New England Turf Writers on the strength of five straight victories and two stakes wins in 2003, all after she was switched to route races by owner and trainer John Assimakopoulos.

Once she left New England, though, things got a bit more difficult. Megan's Halo lost twice in two stakes last fall at The Meadowlands, then looked rusty in her lone winter start at Tampa Bay Downs. She was supposed to recapture her star status when she returned to Boston, but in her last two starts she has finished second and fifth.

"She's trained the whole time like she always has, and her first race back she only got beat a neck," said Assimakopoulos. "Then she caught the slop last time and she just hated it. It was a funny track and she didn't handle it all. I thought she was going to run a monster race after her first start and because of how she was training. I'm just throwing out that last start. Hopefully all the rain they say is coming stays away."

Assimakopoulos says he is sure Megan's Halo, a 4-year-old filly, is still excited about racing, and hasn't shifted her focus to her future broodmare responsibilities.

"She worked a bullet the other day, so she seems encouraging with how she trains," he said. "I think in her last race she might have been trying to protect herself a little bit. She's smart enough at this point that any little problems she might have picked up she's going to try and protect herself, and over that track she didn't want to push really hard. But I think that was just that track. She's still training like she likes what she's doing."

The Drumtop, a 1 1/16-mile race, is stacked with the region's best female runners, including two other Turf Writers award winners, Lady Beelzebub and Island Melody. Picture Gallery and But Mommy are the two fillies who beat Megan's Halo. Aly's Leader has won six of her eight races this year. Casa Nekia narrowly missed winning the Suffolk Downs Oaks. And trainer Ray Stifano sends out two veteran stakes runners in Sarah Jade and Worldly Pleasure.

Still no discussions with horsemen

Although it has yet to talk with the New England Horsemens Protective and Benevolent Association, Rockingham Park continues to make plans for three Thoroughbred turf races at the end of its harness racing card Sunday, Sept. 5. The starting gate that was leased by Rockingham when it ran flat racing was towed from Suffolk up to Salem, N.H., on Wednesday.

Officials from the National HPBA have warned Rockingham general manager Ed Callahan that he needs to reach an agreement with the region's horsemen, or else he will be in violation of terms of the Interstate Horseracing Act. Rockingham Park and the New England HBPA have had an acrimonious relationship for several years.