01/18/2007 1:00AM

Crafty Schemer seeks revenge


Abbondanza beat Crafty Schemer fair and square in last year's Fire Plug Stakes at Laurel Park, and has the advantage of a recent race and relative youth over his now 8-year-old rival, who hasn't raced in nearly two months.

Crafty Schemer, however, will be a far shorter price than defending champion Abbondanza when the two older sprinters clash again Saturday in the $100,000 Fire Plug.

That's mainly because in his most recent start, Crafty Schemer, despite setting a swift pace under pressure, lost by 2 3/4 lengths to Eclipse Award Sprint favorite Thor's Echo in the Grade 1 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash.

Claimed for $16,000 in October 2005 by trainer Ben Feliciano Jr. on behalf of owner Toby Roth, Crafty Schemer is coming off a solid 2006 campaign in which he won 4 of 13 starts, including the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit at Canterbury Park and the Dave's Friend Stakes locally. Ryan Fogelsonger, who was aboard for both those stakes victories, retains the mount for the Fire Plug.

"I don't think the layoff will bother him at all," Feliciano said of Crafty Schemer. "We have found a niche with the horse with Fogelsonger. He seems to run a better race when he is close to the pace."

One of Crafty Schemer's rare disappointments came in last year's Fire Plug, when he took a clear lead at the eighth pole only to be passed by the late-running Abbondanza, who prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths.

Unfortunately for trainer Tim Tullock, Abbondanza hasn't come close to matching that performance in six subsequent starts. In his return to the races following six months off, Abbondanza was competitive for a half-mile before fading to sixth of seven facing optional claimers at Aqueduct in his 6-year-old debut on Jan. 4.

Like Crafty Schemer, Celtic Innis comes out of the Nov. 25 De Francis Dash. He beat Crafty Schemer by 2 1/4 lengths winning the Chesapeake at Colonial Downs last summer, but was a distant sixth in last year's Fire Plug and sixth again, two lengths behind fourth-place Crafty Schemer, in the De Francis Dash.

The toughest horse to figure is Ah Day, who will be facing older runners for the first time after winning seven times as a 3-year-old. Ah Day must carry high weight of 124 pounds while making his first start since he was eased as the 1-5 favorite in the nine-furlong Northern Dancer in mid-November.

The co-feature on the card, the $100,000 What a Summer for fillies and mares, marks a rare six-furlong attempt by the 6-year-old Silmaril.

Although she is 11 for 25 lifetime and 6 for 11 at Laurel, Silmaril is accustomed to running longer races. Trainer Chris Grove said he is using this sprint as a prep for the Grade 2, seven-furlong Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Feb. 17.

Silmaril hasn't gone six furlongs since winning an optional claimer at Philadelphia Park in August 2004.

Her five opponents include Yolanda B. Too, who has finished second as the odds-on favorite in her last two appearances at Laurel, though she was awarded the victory on a disqualification last month, and Scheing E Jet, who shortens up one furlong after finishing second to Silmaril on Dec. 27.