11/15/2002 1:00AM

Saarland wins in return


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Starting for the first time since a 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby as the co-second choice, Saarland made a successful return in Friday's sixth race at Aqueduct.

Saarland, who had a chip in his left front ankle surgically removed soon after the Derby, was to have returned to the races sooner, but he developed a problem with a hind foot at Saratoga that delayed his training.

Saarland wore blinkers for the first time, and also wore front bandages for the first time in his nine-race career. A son of Unbridled, he was odds-on against six rivals in a one-mile, $50,000 allowance for nonwinners of three races, and won for the first time since taking the Remsen as a 2-year-old on this track last Nov. 24.

Saarland, a bay homebred owned by Cynthia Phipps and trained by Shug McGaughey, raced toward the rear of the tightly bunched field through a first quarter-mile in 23.23 seconds under regular rider John Velazquez. They began moving toward pacesetter Short Hair from the two path after a half-mile in 45.62 seconds. They easily drew alongside the leader at the quarter pole after six furlongs in 1:09.43, and edged clear through the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Dial a Hero was up in the final strides to neck Short Hair for second, and it was more than eight lengths back to fourth-place finisher Shelby Lane.

Saarland ran the mile in 1:34.32, and paid $3.70 on a chalk-filled afternoon at the Big A. The $30,000 winner's share increased his earnings to $292,660 from a record of 3-1-0 in nine starts.

"I didn't know that he had a mile in 1:34 in him. I think the blinkers have helped," said McGaughey. "He stumbled a couple jumps out of the gate and grabbed a quarter. It looked like he grabbed that quarter pretty good, and it might take a while to get that thing put back together."

McGaughey added that Saarland will be brought along slowly in the coming months: "We won't overdo it this winter. If everything goes right, I'd like to use the Donn Handicap and maybe the Gulfstream Park Handicap and be ready for the races here in the summer."

Paltry pick six

With favorites - four odds-on and none paying more than $6.90 - winning five of six legs, Friday's pick six at Aqueduct paid only $48.60, the least at a New York Racing Association track this year. The lowest-ever pick six payout at a NYRA track was $43.80 on Dec. 2, 1994.

Friday's consolation payout for five of six winners was $3.30.