01/31/2004 1:00AM

True Direction returns for shot at the champ


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Cajun Beat will be the marquee name and 123-pound highweight for Saturday's $100,000 Deputy Minister Handicap. But trainer Carlos Morales says True Direction, a talented but injury-plagued horse who will be coming off a seven-month layoff, is ready to take on the reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint champion in the 6 1/2-furlong dash.

"Obviously, you never like going up against a Breeders' Cup champion without at least one race under your belt," said Morales, who trains True Direction for owners Marisol and Morton Binn. "But last year, this horse came off a six-month break and ran the best race of his life like it was nothing, and I'm hopeful he can bounce back with that kind of performance next weekend."

Unraced as a 2-year-old in 2001, True Direction captured five of eight starts during his 3-year-old campaign, including the Grade 3 Fall Highweight under 134 pounds. He did not start again until last May at Belmont, where he won a six-furlong allowance dash by 4 1/4 lengths. He covered six furlongs in 1:07.80 seconds over a sloppy track, just one-fifth off the course record, and earned a 116 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He suffered a quarter crack about a month after the Fall Highweight, and we had to stop on him," said Morales. "He even lost a shoe in the race when he came back to nearly break the track record six months later. He did it so easily Jerry [Bailey] couldn't believe when he saw how fast they'd gone."

After the win at Belmont, Morales took True Direction to Suffolk Downs for the Moseley Handicap, where he finished a troubled third as the 7-5 favorite behind Peeping Tom. True Direction has not started since.

"He bumped with Peeping Tom on the turn up in Boston and hit the same exact spot he'd had the previous quarter crack," Morales said. "Except this time it was much worse. It was so nasty we had to keep him in the stall for a month, and it's taken a long time to get him back to where he can race again. Even after all that, his foot is still probably only 75 percent rebuilt."

True Direction has been training steadily this winter at Palm Meadows, and Morales said True Direction is coming into the race with a good foundation.

"He's training well, although I never push him to work too fast," said Morales. "I think this is a really good horse, but he's never really had the opportunity to show it. I just hope we can keep him healthy and he can have a normal campaign. Then everyone might see how really good he can be."

Morales has secured the services of Ramon Dominquez to ride True Direction in the Deputy Minister.

True Direction has been assigned 116 pounds for the Deputy Minister, seven less than Cajun Beat and two less than Gygistar.

Among the other potential starters are Coach Jimi Lee (115), Well Fancied (115), Voodoo (114), Day Trader (113), Alke (112), and Buju (111).

Donn weights delayed

Racing Secretary Dave Bailey released his weights Saturday for two of next weekend's three handicaps - the Deputy Minister and $100,000 Shirley Jones - but withheld his assignments for the Grade 1 Donn until Sunday morning.

"I just want to see if Congaree starts this afternoon [Saturday] in the San Antonio, and, if he does, how he runs under 124 pounds," said Bailey.

Congaree is one of the 15 horses nominated to the $500,000 Donn but obviously will not start if he runs as scheduled in the San Antonio.

Barring any unforeseen changes, Bailey expects a field of six or seven for the Donn, including Funny Cide, Medaglia d'Oro, Puzzlement, Bowman's Band, The Judge Sez Who, Predawn Raid, and possibly Seattle Fitz.