08/19/2002 11:00PM

Repent's return, at long last

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ken McPeek may have been the second happiest trainer on the Saratoga grounds last Saturday when Farda Amiga won the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes off a 106-day layoff.

That gave McPeek even more impetus - and confidence - to continue to point Repent to this Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes. Come Saturday, it will be 140 days - exactly 20 weeks - since Repent last raced, finishing second to War Emblem in the Illinois Derby on April 6.

Moreover, Repent will show only four workouts leading up to the 10-furlong Travers. But it has been Repent's long, strong gallops that has McPeek brimming with confidence entering the "Mid-Summer Derby.''

"The running style is what says it can be done.'' McPeek said. "The running style is a one-run style and that's not a horse that you have to over-train, that's a horse you have to get good bottom into.''

Post positions were to be drawn Wednesday for Saturday's Travers, which will be televised along with the Grade 1 King's Bishop during a 90-minute broadcast on ESPN

(5-6:30 p.m. Eastern). Jim Dandy winner Medaglia d'Oro is expected to head the nine-horse field, and is the only other graded stakes winner in the field besides Repent, a four-time graded winner.

"I've beaten Medaglia d'Oro with Harlan's Holiday and Sarava,'' McPeek said. "This horse is every bit as good as those horses.''

With victories in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby to begin his 3-year-old season, Repent, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up, was an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Even a second-place finish to loose-on-the lead War Emblem in the Illinois Derby wasn't viewed as a major setback until it was revealed that Repent needed ankle surgery. According to McPeek, the ridge of the outside of the left ankle had flaked off and it was irritating Repent's ankle joint.

"It was very minor, like the tip of your fingernail,'' McPeek said. "He turns out a little bit in his left front, he puts a little too much pressure on it when he's running. Dr. [Larry] Bramlage cleaned the area out.''

After five weeks off, Repent resumed galloping in mid-May at Churchill Downs. He got a little body sore, so McPeek stopped on him and turned him out at Longfield Farm in Louisville, Ky., where Repent played in a round pen for two weeks.

Repent resumed training at Churchill in June, but did not have his first workout until July 28, eight days after he arrived in Saratoga. Before beginning his work schedule, McPeek said he was pointing the horse to the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 2.

But, Repent was so strong in his training, that McPeek began thinking Travers after his first work, a three-furlong move timed in 37.20 seconds, on July 28. A week later, he went five furlongs in 1:00.80.

"He jumped into the game the first time we breezed him,'' McPeek said. "Second time we breezed him he jumped into it even more.''

What really gives McPeek confidence is that he believes Repent is screaming out to run 10 furlongs "`because he's always acted like he wanted to go a mile and a quarter,'' McPeek said.

McPeek is so confident in Repent that he said Tuesday during a national conference call he wished Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Haskell winner War Emblem was coming to the Travers instead of remaining in California to run in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic.

"We've beaten him once in Louisiana, then he got us in Illinois when there was no pace that day,'' McPeek said. "I had no fear of running against him at all, and it would have clarified the 3-year-old division if he would have come. But they got to make their decision.''

McPeek believes there is still time for Repent to have a say in the race for a championship in the 3-year-old division.

"I think if Repent would win the Travers and come back and run extremely well in the Breeders' Cup, you could stamp him as the best 3-year-old of the year,'' McPeek said. "We've got a big hill to climb, but we got an awful special horse.''