12/23/2004 1:00AM

Second of June begins at square one

Second of June, unraced since being injured in the Feb. 14 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, returns in an optional claiming race Monday at Calder.

MIAMI - Trainer Bill Cesare has handled Second of June with kid gloves since putting him back in training late last spring. He will finally take those gloves off Monday, when Second of June launches his much-anticipated comeback going 1 1/16 miles against six rivals under optional claiming conditions.

moved to the top of the nation's 3-year-old division last winter after winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes and missing by a neck to Read the Footnotes following a stretch-long battle in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Second of June came out of that race with a non-displaced condylar fracture in a cannon bone that required immediate surgery, thereby ending Cesare's Kentucky Derby aspirations.

Second of June remained under Cesare's watchful eye at his Calder barn following the surgery and did not return to training until late May. Cesare gave him more than the prescribed time before beginning a regular racetrack routine, and did not give him a serious workout until late October.

Second of June has trained extremely well the past several weeks. He posted a bullet five-furlong drill in 59.60 seconds Nov. 3 and a spectacular one-mile work in 1:41.20 five weeks later. Cesare said he thought his horse was training just as well as before the Fountain of Youth.

Cesare had the option of bringing Second of June back in the Fred Hooper Handicap on Dec. 18, but decided he did not want to start him out quite that soon or against older stakes competition. Second of June's first major objective is the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Jan. 29.

"It's a good spot, but he's still got to run good," said Cesare of Monday's race. "He's doing great, but if we get beat, we get beat. There'll be no excuses. As long as he comes out of the race okay, that's the bottom line. The Sunshine Millions is the direction we're going in, but we'll see what happens on Monday first before making any other plans."

Stolen Time, who defeated Second of June by three-quarters of a length here in the 2003 Foolish Pleasure Stakes, is among the opposition and the only other 3-year-old in the field. Stolen Time was sold privately and transferred to trainer Bill Mott's barn following his 2-year-old finale and emerged briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this spring.

He has won 2 of his 8 starts this season, including a third-level allowance/optional claiming race at Belmont by 5 1/2 lengths Oct. 11.

Weigelia vs. Saratoga County

Second of June's return will steal some of the thunder from Monday's main event, the $40,000 Mint Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong overnight dash that features a strong field of sprinters, including Weigelia and Saratoga County.

Weigelia comes back nine days after finishing seventh as the even-money favorite in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap. A four-time graded stakes winner, Weigelia earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109 when he won the Jack Dudley Sprint here five weeks earlier.

Saratoga County, upset winner of the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 20, snapped a seven-race losing streak when rallying to a 5 1/4-length victory in a second-level allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27.

Other key contenders in the Mint include All Hail Stormy, Love That Moon, and speedsters Heart of Jules and Swift Replica.