01/18/2006 1:00AM

Trainer sees more hop in Colita's step

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Bohemian Lady, winning the Affectionately Handicap on Saturday, is being pointed to the 1 1/8-mile Rare Treat Handicap on Feb. 25.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - An underachieving sort throughout his career, Colita may finally be poised to earn his first stakes win Saturday, when he runs in the Grade 3, $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap over the inner track.

A 6-year-old son of Grindstone, Colita has won 7 of 21 career starts, but is winless in eight stakes attempts. Last month, he ended an eight-race losing streak with a 1 1/4-length win in an allowance race over the inner track. A few days later, trainer Todd Pletcher revealed that Colita had undergone throat surgery before that race.

Seth Benzel, Pletcher's New York-based assistant, said he noticed a different Colita last month.

"We were a little discouraged that he wasn't showing much competitiveness in his other races," Benzel said. "He dropped out of it. He wasn't making himself part of the race. In his last race, he made a big run down the backside and then again on the far turn, and that was the most encouraging thing I've seen, personally."

Benzel said he was also encouraged Monday afternoon, when he shipped Colita to Aqueduct for a workout following the first race. Colita, with exercise rider David Jego up, worked five furlongs in 59.92 seconds, getting his final quarter in 24.68.

Benzel said the decision was made to work at Aqueduct because poor weather over the weekend had affected the Belmont training track.

"I thought the work was done well. It was what we were looking for," Benzel said. "Usually when you take them over there they're a little sharper. David was happy with it, and [Colita] came back from the work in fine shape."

Colita, who was assigned 115 pounds for the Aqueduct, is likely to meet five rivals, including Evening Attire (118), who won this race in 2002; Happy Hunting (114); Knox (114); Sinister G (113); and Spite the Devil (113).

Benzel said that Bohemian Lady, easy winner of last Saturday's Affectionately Handicap, will remain in training and be pointed to the $65,000 Rare Treat Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 25.

Meanwhile, Benzel said that Navesink River, winner of the Gallant Fox Handicap, has been sold to Saudi Arabian interests. Navesink River will remain in training with Benzel at Belmont Park before being sent to Saudi Arabia in a few weeks.

Charlie and Marianne Hesse had owned Navesink River, who won last year's Grade 2 Pan American Handicap over the Gulfstream Park turf course.

Serpe puts Pleasant Laughter in better spot

Though the $60,000 Summer Colony Stakes is scheduled to be brought back Sunday after being postponed when last Sunday's card was scrapped because of bad weather, trainer Phil Serpe may have found a better spot for Pleasant Laughter.

A 4-year-old filly, Pleasant Laughter will meet six rivals in a $48,000 second-level allowance race, which serves as the feature race on Friday's nine-race card.

Pleasant Laughter comes off a third-place finish in the Ride Sally Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 15. Pleasant Laughter was very wide entering the first turn, and though she made a run at the front-running Spun Silk, Spun Silk was able to get away with moderate fractions and won in gate-to-wire fashion. Spun Silk is back in this race on Friday.

"We drew an outside post and were wide into the turn, and we couldn't get inside," Serpe said. "It definitely cost our filly a lot of ground. This time we have an inside position, and hopefully we'll be in a little better shape."

Pleasant Laughter will break from post 2 under Eibar Coa.

With One Stormy Mama and Tiffany Touch in the field, Spun Silk is unlikely to get loose on the lead in this field.

The horse to fear is Play With Fire, who won an entry-level allowance race by nine lengths at Belmont in her last start Oct. 27. She is trained by Mark Hennig, who has a 35-percent win rate when bringing horses back to the races off extended layoffs.

Lopez to return this weekend

Jockey Chuck Lopez, injured in a spill on Nov. 25, is expected to return to race-riding this weekend, his agent, Jim Riccio Jr., said. Lopez was actually named on a horse for Friday's card, but the race did not go.

Lopez suffered a broken thumb and a cracked rib when his mount, Happy Face, broke down while making a three-wide move to the leaders at the top of the stretch at Aqueduct.

Lopez was the fourth-leading rider at The Meadowlands, with 16 wins from 101 mounts. He was 2 for 15 at Aqueduct before the spill.

Migliore targets March return

Jockey Richard Migliore is targeting a March 1 return to race-riding. Migliore has been sidelined since Oct. 20, when he suffered a broken leg, cracked rib, and injured Achilles tendon in a paddock accident at Belmont.

Migliore said he has another meeting with his doctors Feb. 6, at which time he's hoping to gain medical clearance to begin getting on horses during morning training hours.

"If he okays me Feb. 6, I'm going to go to Florida for a couple of weeks, get on horses in the morning, but not ride until I'm 120-percent fit and happy where I'm at," Migliore said Wednesday. "Most likely I'd start riding again in New York on March 1st."

Migliore did not rule out riding a few horses at Gulfstream the last week in February if the opportunity presents itself.

"It's been a process, but I'm almost there," Migliore said. "I didn't need surgery [on the Achilles tendon]. I held my breath through the last appointment because it was a little bit uncertain about that."