08/07/2003 11:00PM

Miss Houdini reappears

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DEL MAR, Calif. - After Miss Houdini won last year's Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 31, she was undefeated and one of the leading contenders for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. But she has not raced since. That lengthy layoff, necessitated by a tendon injury, is scheduled to end on Sunday. Miss Houdini is entered in the third race, a six-furlong allowance, and her trainer, Warren Stute, is eager to see how she will perform.

"She's doing fine. She's worked well, and worked fast," Stute said at his Del Mar barn on Friday morning. "She should be ready, hopefully."

Miss Houdini was standing quietly in her stall, her front legs wrapped in bandages that held ice. She had an easy half-mile work in 51.40 seconds earlier Friday.

"With tendon injuries, 90 percent of the time they don't come back," Stute said. "She's an exception, so far. How long she'll last, nobody knows. She stands in ice every day, and we do her up in mud, so we're doing everything we can. Her tendon injury wasn't a bad one, but any tendon injury is bad."

Stute said Miss Houdini "always had a little knot on her tendon." That did not stop her from winning two races last year at age 2, including the Del Mar Debutante in an 11-1 upset over odds-on favorite Santa Catarina. Not long after that race, however, Miss Houdini had heat in the tendon.

According to Stute, his veterinarian, Dr. Rick Arthur, scanned the tendon and said Miss Houdini had a chance to come back. "He said to give her six months off," Stute said.

"She's a big, good-looking filly," Stute said.

Miss Houdini faces five rivals, including the comebacking Royally Chosen from Bruce Headley's barn.

Congaree to skip Pacific Classic

Congaree went out for a routine training session Friday morning at Del Mar, but that's about all he will be doing at this track. His trainer, Bob Baffert, said Congaree will bypass the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 24, and will have just one prep before the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"It's hard to pass up. He looks great. It's tempting. But this is the plan we had," Baffert said, referring to he and owners Bob and Janice McNair.

With Congaree out of the race, the Pacific Classic is expected to include Candy Ride, Kudos, Milwaukee Brew, Peace Rules, and possibly Eye of the Tiger.

Kudos worked a sharp seven furlongs in 1:23.60 on Friday morning for trainer Richard Mandella.

Baffert said that Congaree has not been as effective in the past at Del Mar as at other tracks. He was third in last year's San Diego Handicap, and then won the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap in a workmanlike effort.

"This is not one of his favorite surfaces," Baffert said. "I want to have him ready for the Breeders' Cup."

Congaree won the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 13, his 11th victory in 20 starts. Baffert said Congaree would prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic in either the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting or the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park.

"He likes to run fresh," Baffert said.

Flying the flag

Unfurl the Flag was a close third against a tough group of older allowance runners in his comeback race on July 23. He will be moving into stakes company in Monday's $100,000 Real Good Deal Stakes, but he will be facing 3-year-old California-breds, so the class difference should not be too pronounced.

"I hope he'll improve some," David Bernstein, who trains Unfurl the Flag, said Friday morning. "I think he was pretty ready for his last race, and he ran a strong race."

Unfurl the Flag was claimed for $40,000 out of a winning effort against maidens here last August. He ran four more times last fall before going to the sidelines. "We took a chip out of an ankle," Bernstein said. "We thought he could be a nice colt, and we wanted to give him every chance."

Kent Desormeaux will ride Unfurl the Flag in the seven-furlong Real Good Deal. The other expected starters are Exceeding (Corey Nakatani the rider), Excess Summer (Tyler Baze), Just Parkin (Patrick Valenzuela), Martinblestme (Mike Smith), and Shadow of Illinois (Alex Solis).

* A free handicapping seminar will be held on Sunday beginning at noon and lasting through the entire race card in the Joe Burnham Lounge on the fourth floor of the grandstand. Scheduled speakers include members of Daily Racing Form along with television announcer Caton Bredar and Judy Wagner, the winner of the NTRA/DRF National Handicapping Tournament in 2001 in Las Vegas. Debra Giglio is the host.

* Jockeys Julie Krone and Gary Stevens will participate in a match race at Del Mar on Sept. 7. Last year, on the corresponding Sunday, Del Mar had a match race between the mules Black Ruby and Taz. "We're just replacing the mules," Krone said.

Draw problem leads to change

Jockey's agents will no longer participate in post position draws at Del Mar after an incident Thursday in which Saturday's $150,000 Sorrento Stakes had to be re-drawn after some posts were assigned.

Jockey's agents typically have assisted racing office staff in post position draws at Southern California tracks. But now racing officials will conduct the draw, track stewards said.

Confusion arose Thursday at the Sorrento draw when the entry cards did not match the number of pills used to determine post positions.

At that point, racing office staff member Tora Yamaguchi decided to re-draw the race. He did not consult the stewards about possibly continuing with the original draw, the stewards said later.

"That's when the error was made," steward George Slender said. "He should have checked with us."

Bob Meldahl, agent for jockey Mike Smith, was drawing the entry cards when Dirty Diana, Smith's mount and the race favorite, drew the rail. At that point, Meldahl said he became flustered and sat down on a nearby bench.

"My horse drew the one-hole and I was not happy with that," he said.

Another agent took Meldahl's place, but the draw was not completed after confusion arose.

When posts were re-drawn, Dirty Diana drew the outside post in a field of eight.

Meldahl welcomed the change in policy that eliminates the participation of jockey's agents from the draw.

"I think it's better," he said. "There is no controversy. There is no advantage for us to do it."

No steward was present at Thursday's draw. Typically, stewards are not present at the draw in Southern California. For the remainder of the meeting, however, associate steward Jack Williams will attend the draw three days a week to officiate any disputes.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen