06/23/2008 11:00PM

Freshened Zappa returns in not-so-easy spot

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The beginning of the Hollywood Park spring meet in April marked the end of a hard campaign for Zappa.

Zappa was the only horse at the long Santa Anita winter meet to race in all four graded stakes for main-track handicap runners, beginning with his win Jan. 12 in the Grade 2 San Pasqual. But when he completely misfired opening weekend at Hollywood, it was clear Zappa needed a break. "He had a lot of racing," trainer John Sadler said.

On Thursday, Zappa runs for the first time since April 26 as he drops in class into an allowance/optional claimer in race 7. After a two-month freshening and a solid work tab, Zappa should be tough. His trainer was justifiably reluctant to elaborate.

"I can't say too much because he's in for a tag," Sadler said, referring to the $125,000 claim price that makes the recent graded stakes winner eligible to the allowance. "We've done great with him, and we're trying for aggressive placement so we're not running against the nuts."

Owned by Gary and Cecil Barber, Zappa was claimed in April 2007 for $32,000. He has raced 13 times since, winning 4 races and $231,422 while running against the likes of Heatseeker, Surf Cat and Champs Elysees.

While he faces no such stars Thursday, Zappa isn't a slam dunk. His rivals include Mostacolli Mort, 2 for 3 since switching to synthetic; unbeaten Tall Texan, stretching out after winning three sprints; and Declan's Moon, the 2004 champion 2-year-old who has won just 1 of his last 12 starts.

Luhuk's Dancer finished second under similar conditions last month, and Southern Africa can improve off his recent comeback, his first start in 16 months. Freesgood is likely the longest shot in the field of seven.

If the race unfolds as expected, Declan's Moon will set the pace while pressured by Luhuk's Dancer. Tall Texan will be forwardly placed. Zappa and Mostacolli Mort will rally from the back half of the field.

In race 8, a $40,000 maiden claimer for 2-year-old fillies, the likely favorite is Soup Deeohdouble G, runner-up last month against similar. But Ten Churros should move up a ton second time out while dropping from a special weight.