02/07/2003 1:00AM

Expect Sassy Hound to run better


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Ben Feliciano Jr. wasn't totally surprised when Sassy Hound came up empty as the 3-5 favorite in last month's Hoover Stakes at Laurel Park.

Sassy Hound was coming off a two-month layoff - during which he had been entered and scratched four times - and typically has not fired well off the bench. But Feliciano believes with the Hoover and some solid training under his belt, Sassy Hound will be more like his old self Sunday when he heads a seven-horse field entered in a classified allowance race at Aqueduct.

Sassy Hound, a 6-year-old gelded son of Deerhound, has won 14 of 30 starts and earned $483,422 for owner Toby Roth.

Sunday's $52,000 race, run at six furlongs, could be used as a stepping-stone to the $100,000 Toboggan Handicap run over Aqueduct's main track on March 15. Sunday's nine-race card includes three races brought back from Friday's snowed-out program.

Though he did not run, Sassy Hound had a whirlwind two months between finishing third in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel on Nov. 16 and fourth in the Hoover on Jan. 20. He had been entered in two stakes on Dec. 26, but scratched out of one at Mountaineer to run in the Gravesend at Aqueduct. A snowstorm postponed the Gravesend to Dec. 29, but Sassy Hound was scratched out of that because he was a little tired from the ship up to New York and back to Maryland.

Sassy Hound scratched out of a Jan. 2 race - where his stablemate Crossing Point ran - and Feliciano scratched Sassy Hound out of a Jan. 10 allowance race at Aqueduct when the field included Affirmed Success.

In the Hoover, Sassy Hound broke from an inside post, and was part of a three-way speed duel through a half-mile run in 46.04 seconds before giving way and finishing 5 3/4 lengths behind Shake the Dice.

"We really hadn't been training the horse because we kept entering him planning to run,'' Feliciano said. "It was the worst I've seen him run. I think he'll run better.''

Though Sassy Hound will have to tote 123 pounds Sunday, he should be able to return to his preferred stalking style with speedballs Captain Red and Storm Commander having drawn the two inside posts.

Sassy Hound will have to outfinish Late Carson and Peeping Tom. Late Carson bounced back from a bad performance in the Gravesend with a much-improved second to Affirmed Success on Jan. 10 in the second-fastest six-furlong race run at this meet.

Peeping Tom, who won the 2001 Grade 1 Carter Handicap, returned from a seven-month layoff to finish second behind Captain Red in a $65,000 claiming race on Jan. 16.

Vesta nears return from knee surgery

Vesta, a graded-stakes-winning 3-year-old filly in 2002, has recovered from knee surgery and could return to the races within the next month, trainer Joe Aquilino said.

Thursday, Vesta drilled four furlongs in a bullet 48.88 seconds at Aqueduct, her second half-mile breeze.

"She's coming along okay,'' Aquilino said. "We're bringing her back slowly. She looks fine. I'd say she's maybe about three or four weeks away. She's got a lot of flesh on her so we need to trim her down a little which we should be able to do when we work her farther and faster.''

Vesta, a daughter of Fortunate Prospect, won the Grade 3 Miss Preakness Stakes last spring. Vesta last raced in the Grade 1 Prioress on

July 6, in which she finished fourth. She came out of that race with a chip in a knee. Her operation was delayed until late August because Vesta contracted a virus when she arrived in Ocala, Fla., where her surgery was done.

Aquilino said that No Parole, his stakes-winning New York-bred colt, is expected to join his barn within the next week and may be pointed to the Toboggan Handicap.

No Parole, who won the Mike Lee Handicap, last raced in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap at Calder on Dec. 7, finishing fifth. He has recently resumed training at a farm in Ocala.

Alysweep may try Best Turn

Alysweep, winner of the Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes, may make his next start in the $75,000 Best Turn Stakes on Feb. 22, trainer Pat Reynolds said.

Reynolds initially was going to wait to run Alysweep in the $200,000 Gotham Stakes on March 16, but said Alysweep is doing so well, he may not want to wait that long.

"We could make a pit stop in the Best Turn,'' Reynolds said. "He's looking like a durable colt. My real concern is if the weather is too severe coming up to the Best Turn. We have the option to pass. If he needs to run, he'll run in the Best Turn.''

Reynolds also said he is concerned with what shape the inner track might be in by the Best Turn. "The last part of the meet on the inner track is usually the roughest,'' he said.