01/20/2002 1:00AM

Crafty Shaw takes Diplomat Way


NEW ORLEANS - The Oaklawn Park-based colt Crafty Shaw stole into town and left with the money, winning the $75,000 Diplomat Way Handicap on Sunday at Fair Grounds by a neck.

Crafty Shaw, a 4-year-old owned by Lucky Seven Stable and trained by Pete Vestal, struck a blow for Turfway Park winter form and showed that he's come back strongly from an injury that cost him much of his 3-year-old season.

Crafty Shaw won the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn in March but was injured while finishing seventh in the Arkansas Derby. He did not race again until November, when he was sixth in a Churchill Downs sprint allowance race, which set him up for a pair of scores at Turfway, the most recent of which was a one and three-quarters length win in the $50,000 Prairie Bayou.

Crafty Shaw, who paid $15.20 to win in a field of nine, overcame a traffic-filled trip to nip Drewman on the wire in the Diplomat Way. Saving ground along the rail throughout the race under jockey James Lopez, Crafty Shaw had nowhere to go on the far turn and into mid-stretch. When a seam opened at the furlong pole, Crafty Shaw came through and outkicked a tiring Drewman.

He had help from the way the race developed. Drewman, making only his second start since July, came off a sprint prep race and was adding blinkers following a series of fast workouts before the Diplpmat Way. The colt was sharper than he'd ever been and jockey Larry Melancon found himself battling Freon Flier for the early lead, and on the backstretch he let Drewman out a notch to take the lead.

The first quarter-mile of the race was moderate, 24.25 seconds, but the pace picked up from there, and the three-quarters split of 1:11.70 was exceptionally fast for this racing surface. Still, Drewman responded when Melancon began riding him aggressively in the stretch and he loomed a winner before Crafty Shaw's late burst.

The top pair were clear of the show horse, Tahkodha Hills, but almost two lengths, while the tepid favorite E Z Glory faded to fifth after making a move in upper stretch. Crafty Shaw was timed in 1:44.42 for one and one-sixteenths miles over a track upgraded from good to fast during the Sunday program.