02/21/2005 1:00AM

Saratoga County nose job

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Saratoga County beats Don Six by a nose in Monday's General George.

Saratoga County needed every inch of the Laurel Park stretch to run down a game Don Six in the final strides to win Monday's Grade 2, $200,000 by a nose.

It was a half-length back to Gators N Bears, who finished third in this race for the second consecutive year. Taste of Paradise, Unforgettable Max, Houston's Prayer, Bocca Al Lupo, New York Hero, and Private Horde completed the order of finish.

It was the third consecutive victory for Saratoga County, who ended Don Six's two-race win streak.

Don Six was sent off as the 9-5 favorite based on powerful wins in the Paumonok and Gravesend handicaps at Aqueduct. The General George was a furlong farther than those races, but it was only inches too far for Don Six.

As expected, Don Six shook loose on the lead, but had to run hard to do it. Under Mike Luzzi, Don Six opened up a five-length lead after running the opening half-mile in 44.87 seconds. It looked like Don Six would hold on as Saratoga County began to drift out in the stretch under left-handed whipping from Javier Castellano.

But Castellano switched the stick to his right hand, straightened Saratoga County out, and got up in time. Saratoga County, who won the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream Park in his previous start, covered seven furlongs in 1:23.43 over a fast track and returned $7 to win.

"My horse, you've got to ride at the top of the stretch, and that's exactly what I did, and he responded," Castellano said.

Luzzi said his horse was extremely game, but the distance may have gotten him.

"He tried hard, but seven-eighths is tough for him," Luzzi said. "It is a long run to the turn, and he was a tad eager. But he did relax and kicked when I asked him - he just couldn't hold off the winner. We got beat by a decent horse.''

A rematch between Saratoga County and Don Six could come in the Grade 1, $350,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 9.