08/28/2002 11:00PM

Slumping Congaree gets a new rider

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Mike Smith has been named to ride Congaree in Monday's $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap, a race that trainer Bob Baffert hopes will put Congaree closer to a start in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Smith replaces David Flores, who was aboard Congaree for a third-place finish in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap here on Aug. 4. Sent off as a heavy favorite, Congaree led to midstretch but faded badly in the final furlong, losing by

3 1/2 lengths to Grey Memo. Baffert insists that the racetrack was not playing favorably to front-runners that day.

The one-mile Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap will be the first race in which Smith has ridden the 4-year-old Congaree. Smith has been riding more frequently for Baffert in recent weeks and has the mount on the Baffert-trained Santa Catarina in Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante.

Smith rode for Congaree's owners, Bob and Janice McNair, in 1998 when they were part-owners of the multiple stakes winner Coronado's Quest.

"I've had good luck with Smith," Baffert said, adding that Congaree's owners "sort of encouraged" the switch to Smith.

Third in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, Congaree has been erratic this year. He won the the Lone Star Park Handicap in May, but finished sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap over 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs on June 15 before the loss in the San Diego Handicap over 1 1/16 miles.

For the next few months, Congaree will not race beyond a mile.

Baffert said that Congaree will be pointed to the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 6, as a possible prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile at Arlington Park on Oct. 26.

"I did work him on the turf and he was awesome on it," Baffert said.

Homeland on the bubble

Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf may have an oversubscribed field because of the 10-horse safety limit on this turf course.

As of Thursday, there were 11 horses pointing to the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. The field will be determined by weight. Those assured of running are Continental Red, Blue Steller, The Tin Man, Dance Dreamer, Kim Loves Bucky, Deploy Venture, Kachamandi, Adminniestrator, Mister Kybelee, and Caveolin.

Homeland, second in the Escondido Handicap to Dance Dreamer on Aug. 7, is 11th in the weights and needs one defection to join the field. Homeland was weighted at 112 pounds.

"It is the one time I wish I was given a few more pounds," trainer Ben Cecil said.

Plans for Falcon Flight

Falcon Flight, an unlucky fifth in the Arlington Million on Aug. 17, worked five furlongs on the turf here Thursday in 1:05.80.

In the Million, Falcon Flight closed ground along the rail in early stretch, but lost all chance when he took up in traffic in the final sixteenth. Sent off at 17-1, Falcon Flight was beaten less than a half-length by Beat Hollow.

"He had to check pretty good," trainer Don Burke said.

Burke said Falcon Flight is being considered for three stakes: the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 7, Canadian International at Woodbine on Sept. 29, and the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita Oct. 6.

Burke said he wants to run Falcon Flight in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, but admitted that with a six-figure supplemental fee looming, Falcon Flight must win an upcoming prep to justify the expense.

"I think he needs to earn it," he said. "I don't want to run on a hope and a prayer. A mile and a half is his game. He was the only one running at the end of the Million."

Burke said Falcon Flight will return to Hollywood Park to resume training and will be shipped back to Del Mar for a turf workout next week. Burke has three horses in training; Gary Tanaka owns Falcon Flight.

Heck of a claim

The $12,500 that owners John and Clyde Doyle and trainer John Ivory paid for Grant Marty a Wish last month may turn out to be the best buy of the summer.

Since being relocated to Ivory's Southern California barn, Grant Marty a Wish has won a $40,000 claimer here on Aug. 10 and a $56,000 entry-level allowance for California-bred fillies and mares over six furlongs on Wednesday.

"We got lucky; that was kind of a soft nonwinners," Ivory said of Wednesday's race. "She ran okay. It's not the toughest bunch she'll face."

The 3-year-old Grant Marty a Wish was making her career debut when she was claimed at the Solano County Fair in Vallejo. She won that race by 3 1/2 lengths, scored by 5 1/2 lengths on Aug. 10, and by 3 1/2 lengths on Wednesday.

Ivory said Grant Marty a Wish may not start again until Oak Tree. She is eligible to run against open company in an allowance race for non-winners of one, a provision allowed for statebreds.

Even though Ivory downplayed her accomplishment and said he was not too impressed with her final time of 1:10.31 for six furlongs on Wednesday, she is the star of his small stable.

"I only have five," Ivory said. "Her and four maidens."

- Habibti, third in the Kentucky Oaks in May, worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 on Thursday, the fastest of 18 works at the distance. Trained by Bob Baffert, Habibti won the Del Mar Debutante and Hollywood Starlet last year, but is winless this year.

She is eligible for the $70,000 California Equine Retirement Foundation Handicap for fillies and mares over six furlongs on Sept. 11, the closing day of this meeting.