09/05/2001 11:00PM

Time for 'Giant' is now


Giant Gentleman, the best 3-year-old in Brent Sumja's barn, spent most of the summer recovering from a bout of colic. Now that the colt is healthy again, Sumja is optimistic he can make an impact with some of the best horses in his age group.

Giant Gentleman, a Florida-bred son of Montbrook, returned from a three-month layoff to cruise to an 8 1/2-length win over seven rivals in a nonwinners-of-three allowance at Delaware Park in mid-August. It was his third victory in just four lifetime starts.

Aware that his horse, who didn't make his racing debut until last March, is three months behind the rest of the 3-year-old class, Sumja is carefully picking his spots. For starters, he is focusing on a pair of minor stakes, both contested at 1 1/16 miles, later this month at The Meadowlands.

Sumja plans to enter Giant Gentleman in both the $75,000 Princeton Stakes on Sept. 15 and the Summing Stakes a week later. "We'll hope the Princeton comes off the turf," Sumja explained. "If it doesn't come off the turf, then we'll run in the Summing."

Either Meadowlands race will serve as a stepping-stone for bigger targets. "If we run in the Princeton, then we will likely run in the Ohio Derby. If we run in the Summing, then we will likely go to the Indiana Derby," Sumja said.

The $300,000 Ohio Derby at 1 1/8 miles is Sept. 29 at Thistledown. The $300,000 Indiana Derby at 1 1/16 miles is Oct. 6 at Hoosier Park.

Sumja, who trained Prime Meridian to victories in the California Derby and Lone Star Derby in 1998, believes Giant Gentleman would still be undefeated if he didn't encounter some bad racing luck in his only previous experience against stakes company, the $75,000 Francis "Jock" LaBelle Memorial at Delaware in mid-May. In the LaBelle, Giant Gentleman ran fourth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths.

"He had a really rough trip," said Sumja, 36, who relocated his operation from northern California to Delaware in April. "Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong in that race. If you go back and look at the tape, I think you will see it was just brutal. I still believe he should be 4 for 4."

Sumja was planning on giving Giant Gentleman some time after the LaBelle, but not three months. The horse became ill with colic and was rushed to the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania as a precautionary measure.

"I actually went up there with him and hung out with him until he got really comfortable later that night," Sumja said. "He stayed there for two days and they did a really good job of getting him healthy. He had a mild impaction."

Despite all the problems, Sumja said he feels Giant Gentleman has huge potential.

"We've been through so much with this horse," Sumja said. "I still think he's the best horse I have ever had. He has overcome a lot."

* Haunted Lass, winner of the Everget Stakes at Delaware and last Sunday's Grade 2 Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park, will be turned out for the rest of her 2-year-old season. Trainer Allen Iwinski said he wants to give the filly some time off and anticipates having her return to racing as a 3-year-old at the Gulfstream Park meet.

* There will be handicapping tournament at Delaware on Oct. 6. In addition to cash prizes, the top four finishers will win a trip to Las Vegas to compete in a tournament next April.