01/05/2008 1:00AM

Giant Moon steps forward in Count Fleet


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Saturday's Count Fleet Stakes was supposed to be the New York-bred Giant Moon's first test against open company. But it was a familiar foe that pushed him to the limit. In the end, though, Giant Moon proved superior to fellow statebred Spanky Fischbein and remained undefeated.

Showing that he could be effective from a stalking position, Giant Moon wore down a stubborn Spanky Fischbein inside the sixteenth pole to take Saturday's $81,525 Count Fleet Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct by a neck. It was Giant Moon's fourth win from as many starts.

Roman Emperor, the slight favorite off two open-length victories at Philadelphia Park, finished third.

In his three previous victories - all against New York-breds - Giant Moon did just enough to win. The same held true Saturday, but jockey Ramon Dominguez declared that this was a superior effort to last month's Damon Runyon, which Giant Moon won by 1 3/4 lengths over Spanky Fischbein.

"I thought he showed big improvement today," Dominguez said. "I thought he was overall a stronger horse. Having a target, something to run at, made it easier on me. I didn't have to ride him every step of the way like I did last time."

Breaking from the outside post, Dominguez hustled Giant Moon to get position entering the first turn. He was three wide around that turn, but moved into second place straightening away down the backside and stalked Spanky Fischbein through fractions of 24.04 seconds and 48.30.

Dominguez sent Giant Moon after Spanky Fischbein around the turn and the two were on equal footing turning for home. Spanky Fischbein, under Mike Luzzi, opened up again at the three-sixteenths pole, but Giant Moon kept coming and responded to a couple of cracks of Domginuez's right-handed whip to get the victory.

Giant Moon, a son of Giant's Causeway owned and bred by Albert Fried Jr., covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:41.14 and returned $7.50. The time was the third-fastest Count Fleet in 25 runnings at the distance.

"He really proved that he is improving," trainer Richard Schosberg said. "He improved today in the race the way he improved in his training. . . . Ramon said that this horse is very unique because he feels like he's falling asleep on you down the backside. But once he gets a little tap, he'll just take off on you."

Giant Moon could run next in either the $100,000 Whirlaway on Feb. 2 or the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham on March 8.