05/19/2003 11:00PM

Surf N Sand seeks fourth win in a row


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bob Baffert stuck around Churchill Downs long enough Tuesday morning to watch Congaree put in a final work before the Met Mile at Belmont this weekend, but then he was off to the airport to get back to his large stable in California.

Kentucky won't be long forgotten, however, since Baffert will be checking on Churchill Downs simulcasts Thursday afternoon when he is represented by the likely favorite, Surf N Sand, in the ninth and featured race.

Surf N Sand, a recent arrival from Baffert's Hollywood Park string, brings a three-race win streak into the Thursday feature, a $51,200 allowance at six furlongs. Owned by Charles Heider, the 4-year-old filly is unraced since March 14, when she won a second-level allowance at Santa Anita by 1 1/2 lengths. That strong form should make her a clear-cut choice over five other fillies and mares. The presence of Cornelio Velasquez, who is battling perennial Churchill kingpin Pat Day for the lead atop the jockey standings, only adds to Surf N Sand's appeal.

Meteor Miracle, a recent second at this same level on the third day of the meet, appears to be the main challenger, with Shane Sellers riding.

The rest of the field is Radcliffe Yard, Vicki Vallencourt, Two Dot Slew, and Traci Girl.

Mint Julep contenders sharpen up

Two of the top contenders for Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap on turf had final preps Tuesday. Quick Tip went an easy half-mile over firm turf in 52.20 seconds after San Dare blew out three furlongs in 37.40 seconds over a fast main track.

Quick Tip and San Dare will be part of a sizable field of fillies and mares in the 1 1/8-mile Mint Julep. Cellars Shiraz is a definite starter as the 120-pound highweight.

* A medium-sized field of 2-year-olds is shaping up for the Monday feature, the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes. El Sysco Kid, a surprising second in his career debut in the Three Chimneys Juvenile on Kentucky Derby Day, is a likely starter, along with Another Freddy, Cuvee, Exploit Lad, Voladero, and probably two or three more.

* On Tuesday, Ipi Tombe, the international superstar now trained by Elliott Walden, breezed five furlongs on turf in 1:01.80. Honor in War went the same distance on turf in 1:05 in his first work since winning the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve. Honor in War is headed next for the Manhattan at Belmont June 7.