02/10/2005 12:00AM

Galloping Grocer to clear hurdles

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - On paper, there are several logical reasons to play against probable short-priced favorite Galloping Grocer in Saturday's $75,000 Whirlaway Stakes.

He hasn't raced in 11 weeks. The Whirlaway is just a starting point to what his connections hope is a start in the Kentucky Derby 12 weeks from now. His trainer, Dominick Schettino, is struggling through a 1-for-29 inner-track meet. His regular rider, John Velazquez, is somewhere else. Finally, there looks to be a number of other early speed types to keep the gelding company up front.

But when you look at how raced at 2, and watch him train leading up to this race, playing against Galloping Grocer becomes illogical. Galloping Grocer drew post 6 and will face nine rivals in the Whirlaway, run at 1 1/16 miles over the inner track.

Last year at 2, Galloping Grocer won 3 of 4 starts by a combined 31 3/4 lengths. His only loss came in the Remsen, by a neck to the undefeated Rockport Harbor. As far as the Whirlaway is concerned, Galloping Grocer is simply the fastest horse in the race and might not have to be at his best to win.

To some, Schettino defied logic by training Galloping Grocer in New York this winter rather than Florida. But Galloping Grocer has not missed significant training time and his bright chestnut coat belies a horse who braved the Northeast winter well.

"Look at him in the paddock, and tell me if he stayed here all winter," Schettino said.

Schettino doesn't fear a speed duel. Looking at the other speed horses - including Count Fleet Stakes winner Scrappy T - Schettino believes his horse is faster. Scrappy T, who carries top weight of 122 pounds, breaks from post 10.

"This horse is ready to run," Schettino said of Galloping Grocer. "If he breaks running and wants the lead, I'm not going to take the race away from him. Is there a chance he could get a little tired? Of course, if they run three-quarters in 1:11."

Schettino's only concern is the break. At 2, Galloping Grocer had some gate troubles. Schettino has constantly taken Galloping Grocer to the gate this winter and has seen improvement.

Daddy Joe might have the speed to make things tough on Galloping Grocer, but owner Ernie Pargallo said, "He won't be on the lead; he'll be stalking."

Naughty New Yorker was no match for Galloping Grocer in the Sleepy Hollow, but has excelled with two wins and a second since trying two turns.