12/02/2003 12:00AM

A first for New York

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Multiple Choice makes his first start since May in a prep for the Dec. 21 Gravesend Handicap.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After a non-productive 5-year-old season, Multiple Choice looks to get an early start on his 6-year-old campaign Thursday when he heads an eight-horse field entered in a $52,000 optional claiming race at Aqueduct.

This is believed to be the first optional claiming race run at a New York Racing Association track. None of the eight entrants is offered for the $75,000 claiming price in a race which serves as a prep for the Grade 3, $100,000 Gravesend Handicap on Dec. 21.

Multiple Choice, a gelded son of Mt. Livermore trained by Jimmy Jerkens, ended his 4-year-old campaign with back-to-back graded stakes victories in the Sport Page and Gravesend handicaps. But, Multiple Choice has raced only three times this year. A two-length loss in the Toboggan Handicap in January was his closest finish.

Multiple Choice has not raced since May 10 when he finished last in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap. He came out of that race with a quarter crack, something that has been a chronic problem.

Multiple Choice was turned out for the summer and returned to trainer Jimmy Jerkens in late September. Multiple Choice has been breezing regularly since late October and his two most recent moves - including a three-furlong blowout in 35.93 seconds on Tuesday - were bullets.

Though he is 2 for 8 at the six-furlong distance of this race, Multiple Choice is probably better at seven-eighths to a mile. Still, there appears to be enough speed in this field to set up his late run under Victor Carrero.

Crossing Point, Final Table, and Kazoo are likely to set the pace. In his only previous try over the inner track, Crossing Point finished first in the Paumonok Handicap. He was later stripped of that victory after testing positive for a banned substance.

Super Fuse, Alex's Pal, and Graze are all threats from off the pace. Super Fuse is coming off a second-place finish to Papua in a classified allowance race over the main track on Nov. 7. Papua came back to run second in last week's Fall Highweight Handicap.

On Nov. 18, Alex's Pal returned from a five-month layoff in spectacular fashion, winning a classified allowance race by 2 3/4 lengths at Philadelphia Park. He earned a lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure of 104, which makes him a bounce candidate.

Graze, formerly trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., goes out for Mark Shuman. Though Graze is a five-time winner at six furlongs, Shuman believes he is better at seven-eighths. Graze comes off a second-place finish in a New Jersey-bred sprint stakes last out at The Meadowlands.