07/29/2003 12:00AM

Tafaseel green-lighted for Jim Dandy


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Jumping from a first-level allowance race into a Grade 2 stakes like the Jim Dandy is an ambitious undertaking. But after watching Tafaseel work five furlongs in 59.20 seconds under regular rider Richard Migliore here Tuesday morning, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is looking forward to the challenge.

"It was an excellent work," McLaughlin said, as Tafaseel cooled out back at the barn. "Every time he'd work since returning from Dubai he'd go in 12's. If he went a half-mile he'd work in 48. If he went five-eighths he'd go in a minute. Today he threw in a couple of 11 [second] and change eighths, which is great going into a big race like the Jim Dandy."

With Migliore sitting chilly early, Tafaseel went his opening quarter in 24 seconds and three-eighths in 35.80 before finishing full of run, covering his final two furlongs in 23.40. He galloped out six furlongs in a sparkling 1:11.80.

"He's a very impressive colt," said McLaughlin. "I've been excited about him from the beginning, but he had a little history and we finally discovered in Dubai that he needed Lasix."

Since returning to the U.S. following a disappointing three-race campaign in Dubai, Tafaseel has a pair of one-sided victories, winning his maiden by 9 3/4 lengths and an entry-level allowance race by 4 1/2 lengths four weeks later. A son of Belong to Me, Tafaseel earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures for both performances.

"Obviously, every handicapper knows it's a huge step up from first-level allowance competition to the Jim Dandy and running against a horse like Empire Maker," said McLaughlin. "But he's been running such huge races you'd hate to waste one in another allowance race. The thinking is to step up and get an idea where we stand. Even finishing second or third on Sunday would tell us a lot more than winning another allowance, and [that] would probably be his ticket into the Travers. They are only 3-year-olds once. If things don't work out we can always regroup and go back to a second-level allowance race."

Nacheezmo trainer 'playing it by ear'

While the presence of the Bobby Frankel-trained Empire Maker doesn't scare McLaughlin, trainer H. James Bond is having second thoughts about sending Dwyer runner-up Nacheezmo up against the Belmont Stakes winner in the Jim Dandy.

"Right now I'm playing things by ear," Bond said Tuesday. "I might not decide until Sunday where I'm going to run or if I'm going to run him at all this weekend. I'll probably enter in both races, the Jim Dandy and Haskell, and then watch what's going on before making a final decision. The Haskell is probably a longshot. And I'm just not sure I want to tackle with Empire Maker right now. He's a pretty serious horse. I don't usually say I'd trade places with anybody. But I think I might trade places with Bobby this time."

Bond said another possible option would be to hold Nacheezmo out of both spots on Sunday and run him in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park the following weekend.

Puzzlement might run in Whitney

Trainer Allen Jerkens, who pulled off one of the most memorable upsets in racing history when he sent out Onion to defeat Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney Handicap, could be up to his old tricks again Saturday. Jerkens said Tuesday he is seriously considering starting Puzzlement against favorites Medaglia d'Oro and Volponi in this year's edition of the Grade 1 Whitney.

Puzzlement, under Jorge Chavez, snapped a 10-race losing streak with a last-to-first 2 1/2-length allowance victory on a sloppy track here last week. It was Puzzlement's second win in three starts over the Saratoga strip, and it came exactly a year to the day after his previous victory.

"We needed that win more for my confidence than his," Jerkens said. "Jorge really didn't have to get after him too much to win the race. He wasn't under extreme pressure, and if he does well the rest of the week, I'll try him in there. It always helps to have had a race over the track and it looks like it might be a small field."

If Puzzlement runs, he would carry 112 pounds, 11 pounds fewer than highweight Medaglia d'Oro. Only four horses are confirmed for the Whitney. Along with Medaglia d'Oro and Volponi, the others are are Proud Citizen and Saarland. Harlan's Holiday is a possibility.

Ballerina on Shine Again's itinerary

Jerkens was also pleased with the way Shine Again breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20 on Tuesday in preparation for Friday's Honorable Miss Handicap. Shine Again finished

second to Mandy's Gold in the 2002 Honorable Miss, then won her second straight Ballerina Handicap three weeks later.

"She's doing pretty good," said Jerkens. "She's just been a great filly over the years. She seems to be as good now as she was last year, so we'll run her here Friday and then try to win the Ballerina again. It's tough to ask any filly to win the same stakes three times in a row, but that really would be super if she could pull it off."

Babae retiring, Windsor Castle hurt

Trainer Frank Alexander was hoping to get the opportunity to win a third straight Athenia Handicap in the fall with Babae. But his hopes were dashed this week, when a decision was made to retire the Chilean-bred Babae and put her in the Keeneland November sale.

"We stopped on her after she closed out her 2002 campaign at Calder in December," said Alexander. "She was back in training again this summer but came up with a little suspensory tear at Belmont. Nothing serious, but we're just going to run out of time."

Babae, a multiple graded stakes winner, will retire with eight victories from 25 starts and earnings in excess of $800,000.

This hasn't been the best of weeks for Alexander. Along with Babae, he also lost Windsor Castle, who suffered a tendon injury finishing third in an allowance here on opening day.

"He suffered a slight tear in his tendon," said Alexander. "We'll know more where we stand in 30 days after re-evaluating the injury."

Windsor Castle won both the Grade 3 Hal's Hope and Schaefer handicaps this year. His biggest win came as a 2-year-old, in the Grade 2 Remsen. Windsor Castle is owned by Dogwood Stable.

Trust N Luck in Amsterdam

Trust N Luck worked five furlongs in 59.80 on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday's Amsterdam Stakes. Trust N Luck, who won the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth and finished second behind Empire Maker in the Grade 1 Florida Derby this winter at Gulfstream Park, went his opening three furlongs in 34.80 then finished well, in hand, under regular rider Cornelio Velasquez. The Amsterdam will be Trust N Luck's first start since his fourth-place finish in the Lexington Stakes on April 19, which was won by Scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw will be among Trust N Luck's competition in the six-furlong Amsterdam. Scrimshaw, the only horse other than Funny Cide to run in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown, has not started since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes.

"Making all three legs of the Triple Crown was a little rough on him, especially since we were playing catch-up to get there," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "He's not ready to go two turns with Grade 1 horses in the Jim Dandy, and he's probably going to need this race a little, too."