05/13/2002 12:00AM

Tough Met Mile spot for Congaree return

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Congaree, winner of the Wood Memorial and Swaps Stakes last year and the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, could make his 4-year-old debut in the $750,000, Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 27, trainer Bob Baffert said Monday.

Baffert said the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap the same day is also a possibility for Congaree, but sounded as if the Met Mile was the first choice.

"I'm pointing him to that; he's got two more works to go," Baffert said from Kentucky, where he is preparing Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem for Saturday's Preakness Stakes. "He'll work [Tuesday] and work again, and if he looks good he'll run in the Met; either there or the Lone Star Handicap."

has not raced since finishing third as the 2-5 favorite in the Jim Dandy last Aug. 4 at Saratoga. Congaree came out of that race with a badly sprained knee. He convalesced at Stonerside Stable's training center in Aiken, S.C., where Tim Jones, a former assistant to trainer Bill Mott, supervised his training.

Congaree has been with Baffert for a couple of months and "has been training really strong," Baffert said.

The Met Mile, one of the most prestigious races in New York, could come up a fantastic race. Among those pointing to it are Affirmed Success, Aldebaran, Burning Roma, Crafty C.T., E Dubai, D'wildcat, Grey Memo, Left Bank, Wake at Noon, and possibly Exciting Story, who won last year's Met at 50-1.

Baffert seemed unfazed by the prospect of bringing Congaree back off a layoff against such a strong group.

"No matter where I run him, he's going to run his guts out," Baffert said. "There are no easy spots for him."

Left Bank looks good

Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Monday morning that Left Bank came out of his victory in Saturday's Bold Ruler Handicap in good order, despite dumping jockey John Velazquez past the wire and running loose for a furlong before being corralled by an outrider.

"So far, it seems like we're okay," Pletcher said.

Pletcher said he couldn't have asked for a better performance from Left Bank, especially considering he wants to run him back in 16 days.

"I thought I had him ready to run, but I did not have him over the top," Pletcher said. "I didn't want him to run his best race on Saturday. I wanted him to run with the idea of moving forward for the Met Mile, and it turned out to be that kind of race."

Trainer John Terranova said Silky Sweep, who finished second in the Bold Ruler while failing to change leads in the stretch, could make his next start in the $150,000 True North Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 8.

Small field for Shuvee

Raging Fever, winner of the Distaff Breeders' Cup and Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicaps in her last two starts, was assigned high weight of 121 pounds for Saturday's $200,000, Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap. Raging Fever, who could pass the $1 million mark in earnings with a victory, is expected to meet only three or four rivals in the one-turn mile race.

Victory Ride, last year's Test winner, was assigned 118 pounds. Others expected to run include Two Item Limit (116) and Shiny Band (113). Pletcher said he would consider running either Lovely Amanda or Maddie May if the field remains small.

Trainer Shug McGaughey had nominated Atelier and Cat Cay to the Shuvee. However, Atelier will run in Friday's $200,000 Pimlico Distaff Handicap and Cat Cay is being pointed to the $150,000, Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap on June 9.

On Sunday, Two Item Limit worked a half-mile in 49.05 seconds, the fastest of 32 moves at the distance. The work was conducted over a wet track with traffic cones, or dogs, up several paths out.

Impressive Mott winners

Trainer Bill Mott went 5 for 6 during the first week of the meet, including sharp victories by 3-year-olds Yankee Gentleman on Sunday and Patrol on Saturday.

Yankee Gentleman, a son of Storm Cat, rolled to a front-running, five-length victory in an entry-level allowance race. He covered the 1 1/16 miles in a respectable 1:43.94 over a wet track labeled good.

After winning his maiden by 11 lengths on March 16, Yankee Gentleman stumbled and unseated jockey Jerry Bailey in a preliminary allowance on April 13 at Aqueduct. Mott was hoping to use that race as a prep for the Withers. Instead, he will now use Sunday's race as a prep for the seven-furlong Riva Ridge June 8.

"I thought it was easy enough for him, but it's still kind of difficult for me to tell from one race what kind of [distance] he'll get," Mott said. "He was good enough to win at a mile and a sixteenth against that group, but how far he'll go against good horses I don't know. It looks like he'll be very effective seven-eighths to a mile, and I guess he's unproven after that. He won yesterday at a mile and a sixteenth, but that doesn't prove he's a mile and an eighth Haskell horse or a mile and a quarter Travers horse."

Meanwhile, Mott has not mapped out plans for Patrol, who scored an impressive two-length victory in a maiden turf race on Saturday. A son of Lear Fan, Patrol covered 1 1/16 miles in a stellar 1:40.

Options abound for Patrol, ranging from an entry-level allowance race to the $100,000 Jersey Derby on May 27 at Monmouth Park to the Arlington Classic on June 29, the first leg of Arlington's Mid-America Triple series for 3-year-old turf horses.