05/31/2005 12:00AM

Coming from Nerud, high praise indeed


ELMONT, N.Y. - Bobby Frankel received many congratulatory phone calls following Ghostzapper's demonstrative victory in Monday's Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. One, in particular, stood out.

"John Nerud called me up and he was congratulating me and said it brought back memories of Dr. Fager to him, which is a huge compliment," Frankel said Tuesday morning.

Nerud, 92, was the trainer of Dr. Fager, the Horse of the Year in 1968 and two-time champion sprinter, as well as champions Ta Wee and Dr. Patches. Nerud, who saddled more than 1,000 winners in a Hall of Fame career, was also the breeder and owner of Cozzene and Fappiano.

"Ghostzapper reminds me of four horses I had at my farm - In Reality, Dr. Fager, Cozzene and Fappiano - and all were milers, and three of them became great sires," Nerud said. "To tiptoe a mile you have to have a great amount of speed and a great amount of lung power. Milers make the sires and the Met has made the sires for years."

Though Dr. Fager never ran in the Met Mile, he was 4 for 5 at the distance, and is the co-holder of the North American one mile dirt record of 1:32 1/5. Dr. Fager was also a three-time winner at 1 1/4 miles, including in the Suburban Handicap when it was run at Aqueduct. Ghostzapper won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles and could make his next start in the $500,000 Suburban, a 1 1/4-mile race at Belmont Park on July 2.

"These are unusual horses," Nerud said of Dr. Fager and Ghostzapper. "They have a great engine; we don't quite know why."

Nerud also praised Frank Stronach, the owner and breeder of Ghostzapper, for bringing last year's Horse of the Year back to the races for his 5-year-old season.

"Stronach doesn't have a lot of people on his side, but some people should look to Stronach and learn from him," Nerud said."He has more invested in the horse business than any other man in America."

As for Ghostzapper, Monday's 6 1/4-length victory was not as effortless as it appeared. Ghostzapper, making his first start in seven months, ran a mile in 1:33.29 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 122.

"He's just a little tired," Frankel said Tuesday. "He laid down all morning. He's fine. He always takes his naps."

On Tuesday, Frankel was not as definitive about the Suburban being Ghostzapper's next start as he was on Monday.

"We'll play it by ear," Frankel said.

Other races Frankel has in mind for Ghostzapper this year are the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 6, the Woodward at Belmont on Sept. 10, and the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont on Oct. 29.

Meanwhile, trainer Todd Pletcher said Tuesday that he could not find anything wrong with Forest Danger, who was trying to get out badly under John Velazquez while finishing fifth in the Met.

"At this point he seems to have come out of the race fine," Pletcher said. "We can't figure out why he was wanting to get out as badly as he was. We'll smoke him over and see if we find anything. He's been a horse that will drift a touch, but never to the point where he was hard to handle. Down the backside he was hard to handle."

DeStefano to give up training

John DeStefano is giving up training horses after nearly 30 years, but he is not getting out of the Thoroughbred business. DeStefano, whose final day of training will be Saturday, will serve as racing manager for several of his owners and trainer Brad Wallace.

DeStefano's horses will be transferred to Wallace, a former assistant to Allen Iwinski who has gone out on his own while Iwinski gets treated for hepatitis C. Wallace will have about 36 horses to train, including the graded-stakes-placed Certifiably Crazy and the recent allowance winner Attila's Storm, a speedy 3-year-old.

"I'm going to concentrate on trying to upgrade the stable, and this frees up more time to look to buy horses," said DeStefano, who turns 50 on June 9. "I'm kind of excited about it. I'm still going to be here most days. I'm still responsible directly for some of my owners' horses."

Destefano grew up in Rumson, N.J., just outside of Monmouth Park. He was a hotwalker in the summer as a teenager and eventually went to work for trainer Danny Perlsweig. DeStefano saddled his first winner in 1976 and trained graded stakes winners Penny's Reshoot, Michelle Can Pass, and Smokin Mel.

Melhor Ainda aims for Sands Point

The undefeated Melhor Ainda was scratched from the Boiling Springs Handicap at Monmouth Park on Sunday after that race was transferred to the main track. Now, she will be pointed to this Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Sands Point Handicap here.

Frankel preferred the Boiling Springs because it was worth more money than the Sands Point, and it also gave him an extra week to the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 3. Melhor Ainda, a daughter of Pulpit, has won all three of her starts by a combined 15 lengths.

It is unclear who might challenge Melhor Ainda in the Sands Point. Among horses under consideration are Laurafina, Miami Princess, My Typhoon, Paddy's Daisy, Rahy's Appeal, and Wait It Out.

Wonder Again on her game

Wonder Again drilled five furlongs in 58.44 seconds over the Belmont Park turf course on Sunday as she works toward her 2005 debut in the Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 11.

"We wanted to get a good one into her," trainer Jimmy Toner said. "She usually does what you want her to do. I thought the turf was very firm. She went a couple of ticks faster than I wanted, but it's not like you can shut her down. She went off in 12 [seconds] and the next thing you know she starts picking it up on her own and starts rolling."

Wonder Again is 4 for 8 on the turf at Belmont, including three graded stakes scores, though she has had no luck in the Just a Game. She finished third and sixth in the last two runnings.