07/16/2003 11:00PM

Soto back from injury

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Unbeaten 3-year-old colt Soto, who has been out of action since last November, will make his first start of the year in a six-furlong allowance race Saturday at Philadelphia Park.

Soto, 3 for 3 at age 2, was considered a possible Kentucky Derby candidate for trainer Michael Dickinson following his come-from-behind win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on closing day at Churchill Downs last Nov. 30. But when Soto came out of the race with a sore left shin, plans to go on the Triple Crown trail, beginning with the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, were scrapped to allow him plenty of time to recuperate.

Since he was put back in serious training at Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in northeast Maryland, Soto has had six long, slow workouts since mid-June.

"He's a very relaxed horse, but he's not yet 100 percent fit," Dickinson said. "I wanted to find a small race for him. This will be both a mental and a physical exercise for him."

The only other time Soto sprinted came in his career debut at Delaware Park, where he rallied from last of 10, 11 lengths behind after a quarter-mile, to draw away by 1 1/4 lengths against maidens. Soto displayed the same close-with-a-rush style in his other two starts, both at 1 1/16 miles.

Dickinson said the allowance sprint will serve as a prep for the $600,000 West Virginia Derby, a Grade 3 stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Aug. 9 at Mountaineer Park. Beyond that, Dickinson would like to return to Philly Park for the Pennsylvania Derby, also at 1 1/8 miles, on Labor Day.

The six older opponents Soto faces in the three-other-than allowance, which carries a purse of $22,000, have mainly been running for claiming tags or in starter allowance races.

Soto's chief competition will come from Cousatta, whose 16 lifetime wins include a second-level allowance sprint at Delaware two starts ago, and Parade of Music, winner of his last two starts, both against claimers, by a combined 10 1/2 lengths.

Saturday's program also includes the $50,000 Foxy J G Stakes, a seven-furlong race for statebred 3-year-old fillies.

Three of the prime contenders - Tigressbythetail, Tri's Passion, and Valley of the Gods - finished one-two-three in last month's six-furlong Wonders Delight at Penn National. Also in the race is Trijonia, who stopped badly in the Wonders Delight after having won each of her previous two starts at Philly Park by more than 10 lengths.