03/15/2005 12:00AM

'This Fleet' good angle play


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Claiming a horse off a 15-month layoff from a Hall of Fame trainer seems a risky proposition. Trainer John Zimmerman is hoping that risk will begin paying dividends on Thursday when he sends out This Fleet Is Due along with entrymate Granite Head in an optional claiming race going one mile at Gulfstream Park.

had been idle since November 2003 when trainer Bill Mott ran him under a $50,000 claiming tag here on Feb. 18. This Fleet is Due, who earlier in his career had finished fourth in a pair of Grade 1 races, asserted his class by returning from the long layoff to post a game neck decision over Romolo's Fritzi. Zimmerman, however, was waiting with a shank and halter after the race, claiming This Fleet is Due, a 7-year-old, for the Trade Winds Stable.

Zimmerman, who is spending his second winter stabled at Gulfstream Park, has a reputation for making sharp claims. In fact, 10 of the last 37 horses - 27 percent - he has taken at the claim box have come right back to win their next starts. Zimmerman has six winners at this meet.

Zimmerman also claimed Granite Head for Trade Winds, for $40,000 at Delaware Park on Nov. 7. A son of Grindstone, Granite Head has started twice during the current meet, with his best effort a third-place finish against tougher optional claiming company on Feb. 9. If he starts, there will be little secret to Granite Head's strategy, as he is rarely headed during the early stages of any race at a mile or beyond.

Clinton Potts, Zimmerman's first-call rider here, was listed on both This Fleet Is Due and Granite Head, an indication that one of the pair is likely to be scratched.

is coming back just 11 days after finishing a neck behind Cartoonist going a mile on the turf. In that race, Biblical Scholar battled with the leaders for the final half-mile.

In his previous start, Biblical Scholar rallied to upset a field of entry-level allowance horses by a neck on the main track at odds of 20-1. Whether he can sustain that form coming off such a hard race on short rest is the question for handicappers.

earned high marks after easily defeating $32,000 claimers on Feb. 19, using the inside post to good advantage to win the nine-furlong race by 8 1/2 lengths. Another front-running type, he is not likely to make the lead as readily unless Granite Head scratches.