06/01/2004 12:00AM

Millennium Dragon to try Manhattan

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Millennium Dragon will get a stamina test in Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan Handicap.

A Grade 3 winner, Millennium Dragon has yet to run beyond 1 1/8 miles, but his connections are eager to try the 5-year-old in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan on the turf.

In his last start, Millennium Dragon finished second in the 1 1/8-mile Dixie at Pimlico on May 15. The horse encountered traffic problems in the stretch and was beaten two lengths by Mr O'Brien, who also will run in the Manhattan.

Millennium Dragon's best races have come at seven furlongs to a mile, but his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said a recent change in the horse's attitude in the morning has him hopeful he will handle the stretch-out.

"He's training differently; more relaxed and off the bridle," McLaughlin said. "He can be tough to gallop, and his exercise rider, Barry Downs, has done a great job getting him to relax. I think he can be rated on the lead, and he looks like the lone speed [in the Manhattan]."

Richard Migliore will ride Millennium Dragon in the Manhattan, which was to be drawn Wednesday.

Other probable starters, with known riders, are Stroll (Jerry Bailey), Mr O'Brien (Ramon Dominguez), Quest Star (Pat Day), Burning Sun (Edgar Prado), Better Talk Now, Kicken Kris, King's Drama, Meteor Storm, and Request for Parole.

Stroll, the 121-pound highweight, is the likely favorite.

Strong Hope has lung infection

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of beaten Metropolitan Handicap favorite Strong Hope, said the colt didn't scope cleanly after his third-place finish in Monday's race.

"He came back with a dirty scope and a bit of a lung infection," Pletcher said. "His temperature is good and he's sound. We'll treat him with antibiotics for five days, and he'll walk his normal three days."

Strong Hope set the pace in the Met Mile before fading late to finish third, three lengths behind the winner, Pico Central.

"I was disappointed, but he ran well and finished in front of some good horses," Pletcher said.

Pletcher said he would concentrate on preparing Strong Hope for the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga on Sept. 4, with a possible start before then in the Grade 2 Tom Fool at Belmont on July 4.

Mass 'Cap possible for Funny Cide

Funny Cide, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, came out of his fifth-place finish in the Met Mile in good order, according to trainer Barclay Tagg.

After the race, Tagg said he wasn't convinced going into the Met Mile that Funny Cide was a miler.

"He's unbeaten around one turn, but those were easier races," Tagg said Tuesday. "This might have been the race of the year. I wasn't against trying him at a mile, but I wasn't surprised he didn't win. I was disappointed because I figured even if he didn't like the mile, he would run better than he did. He trained beautifully for the race."

Tagg said the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on June 19 is a possibility for Funny Cide's next start.

"I might run - I'll see," Tagg said. "It's only 19 days in between. I know the [owners] want to run him."

Azeri will go back against females

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Azeri, who finished eighth in the Met Mile, came out of the race well and was shipped back to Kentucky on Tuesday.

Lukas hasn't picked out a spot for Azeri's next race, but said she will run against her own sex in her next start.

Jerkens proud of Bowman's Band

Besides Paulo Lobo, Pico Central's trainer, perhaps the trainer who was happiest with the Met Mile outcome is Allen Jerkens, who saddled Bowman's Band to a runner-up finish.

Bowman's Band, who broke from the rail in the nine-horse field, was bottled up with nowhere to run around the turn. He was guided several paths to the outside for the stretch run by Jorge Chavez and was coming with a late charge in the final furlong. He was beaten three-quarters of a length by Pico Central.

"I was really proud of him," Jerkens said.

Jerkens said Bowman's Band's primary summer goal is the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 7. Jerkens said it's doubtful he would run Bowman's Band back in the Grade 2, $250,000 Brooklyn here June 12 because it's only 12 days after the Met Mile.

"I doubt it, but I haven't ruled it out," Jerkens said.

Jerkens recalled that he won the 1967 Brooklyn, which was then run at 1 1/4 miles, with Handsome Boy only seven days after the horse won the 1 1/4-mile Haskell at Monmouth Park.

Gate placement may explain slow Met Mile

Pico Central's final time of 1:35.47 for the Met Mile was the fifth-slowest time for the race since 1960. There may be a viable reason as to why the time was so pedestrian.

Last fall, the New York Racing Association made a decision to change the placement of the starting gate for one-mile races at Belmont. Instead of having a run-up of about 60 yards before the teletimer starts, the run-up is now about five yards.

Bob Duncan, the NYRA starter, proposed the idea of moving the gate last year for safety precautions.

"The gate sat at the very end of the chute before you reached the main track," Duncan said. "Some horses, maidens in particular, would come out of the gate and go left and be hesitant."

Duncan said NYRA has also moved the starting gate close to the poles for races run at 6 1/2 furlongs on Aqueduct's outer track and six furlongs on the inner.

Caiman assistant in same barn as Servis again

Martin R. Rosado just joined trainer Angel Medina's staff a week ago. On Tuesday, he was at Belmont Park caring for Caiman, a starter in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Rosado and Caiman were in Barn 5 at Belmont, where Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones will take up residence on Wednesday. Rosado said he knows John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones, because Rosado used to have horses in the same Philadelphia Park barn as Servis a few years ago.

"I trained on my own and I had horses in the same barn, and John and his assistant were nice to me and gave me anything I needed," said Rosado, a New York native who has previously worked for Frank Martin, Bill Mott, and Noel Hickey. "I'm very happy for him and his family. I got goosebumps watching that horse in the Preakness."

Caiman arrived from Illinois on Monday night and jogged once around the Belmont Park oval on Tuesday morning.

"I'm tickled to be here," Rosado said. "If we run fifth, we pay our nomination fee. The owner had a dream to run a horse in the Belmont Stakes. We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."

- additional reporting by David Grening