07/31/2001 12:00AM

Point Given, Congaree not locks


LAS VEGAS - Trainer Bob Baffert has the favorite in both the Jim Dandy Stakes and Haskell Invitational Handicap this weekend, and while Congaree and Point Given are the colts to beat, they are not mortal locks.

Without much speed in the race, Congaree will have a decided tactical advantage in the Jim Dandy Saturday at Saratoga, but don't dismiss A P Valentine. Point Given, fresh from victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, faces a formidable challenge, as he must overcome Monmouth Park's notorious speed-favoring surface in the Haskell Invitational Handicap on Sunday.

After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Congaree skipped the Belmont and was freshened for the Swaps Stakes, where he basically galloped 1 1/8 miles against inferior competition. Congaree faces better runners in the Jim Dandy, but his tactical speed should serve him well. By Arazi, Congaree has exceeded expectations on the dirt, but is bred to be just as effective on the turf. In fact, Baffert has said repeatedly that Congaree's goal will be the Breeders' Cup Mile, on the turf.

Arazi may have won the most dazzling Breeders' Cup Juvenile in the history of the race, but he was something special in Europe before he ran that memorable race. Surgery between his 2- and 3-year-old seasons compromised his racing career thereafter, and he was never the same animal. By Blushing Groom out of a Northern Dancer mare, Arazi was ideally bred for the turf, and his runners are infinitely better on that surface. But it's not just Arazi who makes Congaree a good candidate for the grass, it's the male influences found in his female family, such as Maribeau, Known Fact, Bold Lad, and Ribot.

Congaree's damsire is Mari's Book, and although not exactly a household name in pedigrees, Mari's Book is a powerful turf influence. Mari's Book is by Northern Dancer, and his damsire is Maribeau, a son of Ribot out of Cosmah, the 1974 Broodmare of the Year. Maribeau was one of four stakes winners produced by Cosmah, and the others were three-time champion filly Tosmah, Halo, and Fathers Image. Cosmah also produced Maribeau's full sister Queen Sucree, who was the dam of four stakes winners, including Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade.

A P Valentine's time

The second half of 2001 may prove to be A P Valentine's time. Most people dismissed A P Valentine as a one-hit wonder after his disappointing spring campaign. But a disastrous trip in the Kentucky Derby was followed by second-place finishes in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, vindicating the high esteem he was held in by his trainer, Nick Zito. Many runners by A.P. Indy improve with age (Golden Missile, Runup the Colors, Secret Status, and Tomisue's Delight come to mind), and A P Valentine is a serious candidate for not only the Jim Dandy, but especially the Travers at 1 1/4 miles.

Another likely Jim Dandy starter is Drewman, a late-developing Unbridled colt who is bred very similarly to Unbridled's Song. Drewman is out of the Cozzene mare Lucky Soph, a half-sister to Trolley Song, the dam of Unbridled's Song.

In 1999, Unbridled Jet, another late-blooming son of Unbridled, checked sharply in the Haskell Invitational and finished fourth, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by Menifee, Cat Thief, and Forestry.

Sizzling pace in Haskell

Because he was last seen winning the Belmont with devastating ease, Point Given will be a prohibitive favorite in the Haskell. Point Given was certainly the best horse on Belmont Day, but his lopsided margin of victory is deceptive, and was owed to the unusual 1 1/2-mile distance of the race. Burning Roma, Touch Tone, and Hero's Tribute are fresh 3-year-olds who did not compete in the grinding Triple Crown trail, and may provide some drama in this year's Haskell.

The Haskell's 1 1/8-mile distance is within the scope of Burning Roma (Rubiano). He certainly has a classy female family behind him. His dam, the Overskate mare While Rome Burns, is a half-sister to stakes winner Vivano, and his fourth dam is Lady Be Good, whose descendants include Goodbye Halo, Duty Dance, Zilzal, Polish Precedent, Mining, and Wavering Monarch.

Touch Tone (Pick Up the Phone) has outrun his modest pedigree, and while he is an exciting sprinter/miler, the Haskell may be one furlong too far. That said, he may benefit from Monmouth's speed surface and try to wire the field. Touch Tone would be more effective in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Indygo Shiner (A.P. Indy) has a top-class pedigree, but may be better suited to turf. His dam, the El Gran Senor mare Navarra, is a full sister to stakes winner Toussaud, the dam of Chester House and Honest Lady.

If he can rate off Touch Tone's hot pace, Hero's Tribute (Sea Hero) could get the jump on Point Given. But if he is intent on the lead, as he has shown in the past, then the race sets up perfectly for Point Given, and the other closers. Jamaican Rum (Exemplary Leader) and First Spear (Dare and Go) are clearly bred for turf, while the exquisitely bred Scorpion (Seattle Slew) could yet turn out to be the star his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, always thought he could be.