09/11/2007 11:00PM

Mission Approved finds perfect spot

EmailEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The element of surprise is gone for Mission Approved Friday night in the $60,000 Princeton Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Last time out, Mission Approved pulled off a stunner at Saratoga, winning the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes on closing weekend at 34-1.

"I was pleased by his race at Saratoga and I was pleasantly surprised," said trainer Gary Contessa said. "I never doubted that the horse had a lot of quality."

A first glance, the Princeton seems like a comedown following a graded victory. The more Contessa looked at the Princeton, the more it fit, even with the short turnaround from the Saranac.

Few grass stakes for 3-year-olds remain on the local calendar. The other powerful incentive was the distance of 1 3/8 miles.

Contessa believes the longer the race, the more effective the New York-bred Mission Approved will run.

"As big as he is, and the kind of stride he has, he's a very average horse going one mile or a mile-and-a-sixteenth," he said.

The Saranac at 1 3/16 miles was the colt's longest effort, and it produced a career-best, front-running victory and a 95 Beyer Speed Figure, clearly the best among the nine entrants in the Princeton.

"I know I'm coming back on short rest, but I am never going to find this kind of race for him out there," Contessa said. "It's a great opportunity to take advantage of a distance he really likes. The farther he goes, the better he gets. You let a horse like him gallop along on a 49-and-change lead, watch out! This horse is made for a race like this."

Eibar Coa has the return call.

French Vintage and Top Cross both won stakes at Monmouth Park over the summer. French Vintage, trained by Joe Pierce, Jr., took the Choice in early June and most recently finished third in the Jersey Derby on the Haskell undercard.

Top Cross, trained by Todd Pletcher, Monmouth's leading trainer, won the Lamplighter in late May. Last time out, Top Cross finished last in the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs on July 21.

The Princeton is the lone stakes on the Friday card as the Formal Gold, the prep for the $500,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 5, did not fill. The Formal Gold has been rescheduled for Saturday night.

McCauley ready to take next step

The next step in the comeback of jockey Herb McCauley is finding an agent to book mounts now that he has returned from a nine-year absence.

McCauley, 50, was back in the saddle Saturday night at the Meadowlands for the first time since suffered a severely broken leg in a spill at Monmouth in July 1998.

He had two mounts Saturday, finishing fifth and ninth.

Things looked much brighter Tuesday afternoon at the Big M when McCauley had two seconds and a fourth in three assignments.

The most encouraging aspect of the comeback from McCauley's perspective is that his timing was still there after all the lost years.

"The clock went off in my head when the bell rang," McCauley said. "I was fit and will get even fitter. On Tuesday, I felt I gave the horses good rides and I got runs out of them. I came back from the races good, myself."

Now it's a matter of increasing the quality and the quantity of mounts.

"When I find an agent, I'm sure my business will pick up," he said. "People needed to see me out there riding, and what they saw is that I am definitely back."