02/13/2002 1:00AM

Now appearing in a starring role: Mongoose


Philadelphia - It has been said so often that horse racing needs a star attraction that it has become an accepted maxim. I am not sure I agree with it, but I do know this. I want a star.

Anybody see a star? After spending countless hours staring at the 405 Triple Crown nominations in search of some revelation and a few recognizable names, I have reluctantly concluded that it's pointless staying up nights debating the possibility any horse on that list is going to be the next superstar.

So I turned my attention to the older horses. After watching the tape of Red Bullet's magical mystery tour of Gulfstream Park last Saturday so many times that I had it memorized, the winning horse in the Donn finally caught my eye.

Who is Mongoose? And how exactly did he win a February Grade 1 stakes in south Florida? What were his credentials and what do they say about our search for a star?

This time last year, Mongoose had started five times. He won a maiden race and something called the Cradle Stakes at River Downs. It must be important because the purse was $200,000. It was not so important that it had one of those roman numerals next to it.

After the Cradle triumph, Mongoose went almost 14 months between victories. A son of Broad Brush, he tried four graded stakes - the Iroquois, Spiral, Arkansas Derby, and Jersey Derby. He was beaten by a combined 40 lengths.

When Mongoose was dropped into a nonwinners-of-two-other-than allowance last Oct. 26, he was bet down to 11-10 - and won by 10-plus lengths. Mongoose has not lost since. He won the next condition. He won an optional claiming race.

He was entered in the Donn. He was 6-1. He stalked the pace, took the lead, opened up two lengths at the eighth pole and held off Red Bullet. Most wanted to focus on Red Bullet's brutal trip and his subsequent disqualification.

Everybody forgot Mongoose. They said he was lucky to win, that Red Bullet surely would have run him down if they hadn't started the race without the 2000 Preakness winner.

I say, look at Mongoose's Beyers. During his three-race pre-Donn winning streak, Mongoose went 100, 92, 102. Of such Beyer magic are Grade 1 winners made. At least, they are made that way in the winter of 2002 in Florida.

Mongoose dazzled with his 106 Beyer in the Donn. No more, will there be "who is Mongoose" questions. Now, everybody knows.

Apparently, this is what a star looks like in February 2002. The profile is simple. Run in three Grade 2 and one Grade 3 stakes as a 3-year-old and never come close. Rush through your allowance conditions late in your 3-year-old year.

Parlay a dominating performance in an optional claiming race that included 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos into an appearance in a Grade 1 stakes with great tradition. Hold off another classic winner.

Name the last horse that beat a Derby winner and Preakness winner in consecutive starts? Can't do it, can you?

A star is born.