05/28/2003 11:00PM

Crafty C.T's check-up

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Since last fall, Crafty C.T. has lost graded stakes to such notable horses as Aldebaran, Congaree, and Orientate. Respectively, they represent two of the top older horses in training this year and the 2002 champion sprinter.

The competition will be easier when the 5-year-old Crafty C.T. attempts to end a five-race losing streak in Saturday's $75,000 Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"I'm supposed to win this, I guess," trainer Howard Zucker said.

The 120-pound highweight, Crafty C.T. will be favored against nine opponents in the Ack Ack, run over 7 1/2 furlongs around one-turn.

Owned by Carl Grether, Crafty C.T. is part of a deep field.

The top contenders include Cappuchino, third in the Churchill Downs Handicap on May 3; Gondolieri, the winner of the Inglewood Handicap on May 3; Joey Franco, the winner of the Tiznow Stakes on April 26; and Publication, the runner-up in the Los Angeles Times Handicap on May 10.

The Ack Ack will be Crafty C.T.'s first start since a second-place finish as the favorite in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes at Keeneland on April 13. Prior to that, Crafty C.T. was second in the Ancient Title and San Carlos handicaps, and third in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint and Cigar Mile. A return to top-class company in the $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap on July 5 is contingent on Saturday's race.

"We haven't ducked anybody," Zucker said. "We've run against them all.

"He's been consistent. He hasn't run at Hollywood before. We're taking a look at how he runs here to decide if we want to run in the Triple Bend.

"I think the distance should suit him well. This is only a little chunk of money but I'm hoping to kick off a little campaign."

Gondolieri and Joey Franco will be well supported, having won stakes on the main track at this meeting.

Gondolieri has not finished worse than third in three starts since arriving from Chile.

Publication is a serious threat to Crafty C.T. Trained by Vladimir Cerin for Mercedes Stable, Publication has run well in two starts this year, winning an allowance race at Santa Anita before finishing a troubled second in the Los Angeles Times Handicap over six furlongs May 10.