02/06/2009 12:00AM

Giant Moon returns in tough spot

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Perhaps it's a testament to how far the New York breeding program has come when two statebreds that raced in last year's Preakness are running in a restricted stakes Friday at Aqueduct and neither one is the horse to beat.

The $65,000 Rough Rogue, at a mile and 70 yards, marks the return to the races for Giant Moon, who has not raced since finishing eighth in the Preakness. Icabad Crane, who finished third in the Preakness, is among the seven horses entered.

However, horses such as R Clear Victory, winner of the Alex M. Robb Handicap, and Manteca, a winner of three straight, look more appealing from a betting perspective.

Giant Moon won the first four races of his career, including the Count Fleet Stakes against open company last January. He finished third in the Grade 3 Gotham in which he detested a sloppy track and was beaten two lengths by Tale of Ekati when fourth in the Wood Memorial. That would be his last start prior to the Preakness.

Foot problems have sidelined Giant Moon since then, but through the work of blacksmith Ray Galluscio, Giant Moon is ready to compete again.

"He just did a wonderful job of getting his feet back to where God intended them to look," trainer Richard Schosberg said. "He's trained very well. Maybe he'll need a race; you never know with this horse because he was never one of those horses that showed you much in the morning. But this morning, he was sharp; he was all we could handle this morning. I'm excited to get him back over here."

Giant Moon has had the majority of his success racing on or near the lead. Having drawn the rail and being fresh, Giant Moon figures to be up close under Ramon Dominguez.

R Clear Victory likes to be on or near the lead as well, though he did win the Alex M. Robb Handicap from a stalking position. In that race, R Clear Victory overcame post 11. He will again break from the outside post in this seven-horse field.

Icabad Crane finished third to R Clear Victory in the Robb after encountering trouble early in the race.

Perhaps the horse to beat is Manteca, a son of Aptitude out of the multiple-stakes-winning mare Irving's Baby. Manteca, trained by Charlton Baker, has won his last three by an average of six lengths and now makes his stakes debut.

Dr. D.F.C., South Fourth St., and Stopbluffing complete the field.