05/13/2003 11:00PM

Joe Aitcheson: Same time, two weeks later


Trebizond, Naughty Prince, and Fighting Star - the first three finishers in the Hard Scuffle Stakes for steeplechase runners at Churchill Downs on May 1 - meet again on Friday at Pimlico in the Joe Aitcheson Stakes, the second leg of a three-race series for horses who had not won over the hurdles prior to March 2002.

In the Hard Scuffle, Trebizond beat Naughty Prince by a half-length, with Fighting Star another three-quarters of a length back in third. Friday's race is at 2 1/8 miles, a sixteenth of a mile farther than the Hard Scuffle.

Major Hero was leading the Hard Scuffle when he fell midway through the race. That was his first start since October, and he is trained by the respected Tom Voss, so he merits another look.

Crafty Celt could be the live longshot in the field. He returned from a 16-month layoff and won a jump race against 11 other maidens on April 19 at Middleburg. That was his first start over the hurdles. He will be ridden by one of jump racing's leading riders, Gus Brown.

Ghost Fever exits a key allowance race at Middleburg on April 19. He led until the final furlong and finished second to Blasphemous, another of the starters in the Aitcheson. The third-place finisher that day was Trebizond, who won the Hard Scuffle in his next start. The time of that allowance race was nearly four seconds faster than Crafty Celt's maiden race.

Blasphemous was pulled up in a subsequent race, but obviously is capable of beating Trebizond and Ghost Fever when at his best.