08/05/2002 11:00PM

'Giggle' jumps into fray


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The light schedule that trainer Jonathan Sheppard mapped out for It's a Giggle this spring was designed to bring him into the Saratoga meet prepared to knock off this track's two main races for steeplechase runners in a bid for a year-end championship. It's a Giggle can clear the first of those jumps on Thursday, when he heads a field of six in the $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Handicap.

If you want to see them go up . . . and over, arrive early. The Smithwick is the first race on a nine-race card.

It's a Giggle won a pair of jump races in April - including the Royal Chase at Keeneland - then was off for nearly three months before prepping for Saratoga in a race on the flat at Colonial Downs on July 23. Sheppard believes the 8-year-old gelding can pick up right where he left off at Saratoga, where It's a Giggle won three races last summer.

"The idea is to run him twice here," said Sheppard, who hopes to bring It's a Giggle back later in the meet for a defense of his title in the New York Turf Writers Handicap on Aug. 29. "Last year he ran three times. He's getting a break this time just running twice.

"He has a chance to be a champion," Sheppard added. "He did last year, until his last two starts."

It's a Giggle ran poorly in both the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase and Colonial Cup, the end of a seven-race campaign that followed a three-year absence from the track. That is why Sheppard has gone easier to this point this year.

"He's a pretty extravagant jumper," Sheppard said. "He's a tall, racy horse. He can take off further behind the fences, and he soars over the fences."

It's a Giggle carries top weight of 158 pounds, but he will have a new jockey. Blythe Miller, who is unbeaten in five starts with It's a Giggle over the past two years, is out of action because of a concussion suffered in an accident here on Aug. 1. So, Gus Brown takes over.

Brown has never ridden It's a Giggle. In preparation, Sheppard said he planned on having Brown get acquainted with It's a Giggle in a schooling session scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Oklahoma training track's turf course.

"I'll let him pop over a couple of fences," Sheppard said.

Sheppard also sends out Invest West, who beat Smithwick runners Tres Touche and P.C. Plod in his last start.

The main threat to It's a Giggle could be Anofferucanrefuse, who raced with great success in novice hurdles earlier this year and now steps into non-restricted competition.