05/14/2002 12:00AM

Tijiyr returns to action

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After winning the Grade 2 Explosive Bid Handicap in March 2001 at Fair Grounds, Tijiyr seemed on his way to turf stardom.

Things haven't worked out that way. In six subsequent starts, Tijiyr failed to win once, and after his last race in February, trainer Niall O'Callaghan decided to take a step back and give Tijiyr some time to regroup.

That 3 1/2-month respite is scheduled to end Thursday at Churchill Downs when Tijiyr, a gray 6-year-old horse owned by Gary Tanaka, runs in the ninth-race feature, a $59,800 allowance at a mile on turf. The race is the first since before his Explosive Bid victory that Tijiyr has not run in a stakes, a change that obviously should give the Irish-bred horse a significant edge in class.

Nine other older horses were entered in the feature, which is named the Lookout, in honor of the 1893 Kentucky Derby winner. But if the race stays on grass, O'Callaghan will scratch part of his stable entry, Horrible Evening, who was entered as "main track only," thereby leaving Tijiyr to run uncoupled while wearing saddlecloth number 1A.

Tijiyr has recorded several sharp workouts in preparation for his return, the most recent being a solid five-furlong breeze last week in 1:01.60. If he is not fully cranked up for his comeback, then at least a couple of his opponents, Dernier Croise and Conserve, appear capable of a mild upset.

* While several Preakness candidates were out for work after the harrow break here Tuesday morning, so was Congaree, the 4-year-old colt trainer Bob Baffert believes "might be the best horse in training right now." Congaree, with Dana Barnes up, breezed seven furlongs in 1:25. He will work once more before making his seasonal debut May 27 in the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park.

* Quick Tip and Solvig, the one-two finishers in a recent allowance prep, both had their final tune-ups Tuesday for the lone stakes to be run here this weekend, the $100,000 Mint Julep Handicap on Saturday. The Mint Julep is for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on grass. Quick Tip, to be ridden by Larry Melancon, went five furlongs in 1:00 on the main track, while Solvig, with Jon Court likely, went the same distance in 1:01.40.

The Churchill turf course, normally open for workouts on Tuesdays, was closed because of heavy recent rains.

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