01/31/2006 12:00AM

Best horse starts in worst post

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A common conundrum of handicapping Aqueduct's inner-track routes is what to do when a main contender breaks from the outside post. Bettors must wrestle with that situation in Thursday's eighth race, when Crafty Brutus takes on sharp last-out maiden winner Backchat at a mile.

The $46,000 first-level allowance drew 11 horses, including one also-eligible and two entries. If there are no scratches from the main body of the race, will break from post 10 under apprentice Pablo Morales, and his strategy is preordained, according to trainer Rich Schosberg.

"Running [post] 10 at a mile on the inner dirt is awfully tough," said Schosberg. "If he's going to save any ground at all, he's going to have to use his speed. It's better to be up close and two wide than on the rail and 15 lengths behind."

Crafty Brutus was an impressive maiden winner at Keeneland last spring for Carl Nafzger, so impressive he was sent off at 2-1 or lower in his next four starts, all on the Kentucky circuit, all of which resulted in third-place finishes.

After a short layoff, Crafty Brutus had two more starts for Nafzger in Kentucky before shipping to New York and moving to Schosberg's barn. He raced wide behind a trio of next-out winners at six furlongs in late November, and followed with a huge effort when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and fitted with blinkers on New Year's Eve, setting a fast pace and leading to the final strides.

"The blinkers sharpened him up, and he really took the bridle," Schosberg said. "He showed a lot of gameness."

Crafty Brutus has run well without the early lead, but Thursday's game plan to again send from the opening bell raises the possibility of an early duel with Fortunate Storm, who has run three routes on the inner track and has had the early lead every time.

Such a scenario might benefit , a $750,000 colt who comes off a good-looking win against maiden sprinters for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in his second start. That he ran the final quarter-mile in 24 seconds bodes well for handling the added distance Thursday, and McLaughlin's stretchout stats are solid as well.

Backchat is coupled with , and appears the much stronger half of the entry.

The field also includes the Jimmy Jerkens-trained entry of , the lone 5-year-old in the lineup, and World Series.