11/12/2003 12:00AM

Laboccetta on fire after slow Belmont


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Frank Laboccetta Jr. has the win photo of virtually every one of his horses tacked onto his office wall. Laboccetta may soon need a bigger office.

Laboccetta, a former jockey and the son of a trainer, has been unconscious through the first 11 days of the Aqueduct fall meet, winning with 8 of his first 12 starters with one second-place finish. The eight wins tie him for second in the trainer standings with Todd Pletcher, one behind leading trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.

For Laboccetta, it is a far cry from the Belmont fall meet, where he went 0 for 21. However, Laboccetta had 11 runners finish second or third at Belmont, and some of those horses have come back to win here.

"When things aren't working out, there's nothing you can do about it, you just keep going," said Laboccetta, referring to his misfortune at Belmont. "I had two or three horses spot the field 10 lengths and then come running and just get beat; you've just got to laugh. But, it's nice when you don't have to ship, you're home, and you can just walk them over there."

Laboccetta, 33, has a 19-horse stable made up primarily of claimers. Though Laboccetta has about 10 different owners, his primary client is a partnership of Laz Chapman, Hilton Gordon, and Michael Stiegal. Chapman, a professional gambler based in Chicago, suggested claiming Threat of Victory, who won on Oct. 30, and Won Dozen Roses, who won here on Tuesday.

"He's as sharp as they come," Laboccetta said. "He watches every race and he picks out a lot of the claims."

Laboccetta has also gotten lucky with owners who have transferred horses to him from other barns. When Carl Deville left for Louisiana, Our Blue Streaks Stable moved the New York-bred 2-year-old Ro Day Scious to Laboccetta. Ro Day Scious won his maiden on Nov. 4.

Private Port, To Die for Again, and Tap Machine - all winners at this meet - were moved by their owners to Laboccetta from other trainers.

Laboccetta may have made a shrewd claim when he took Peekskill for $35,000 at Saratoga on behalf of owner Gregory Morino. Peekskill won his third-level allowance condition in his second try for Laboccetta and may be good enough for stakes company here this winter.

"I don't know why they gave up on him," Laboccetta said, referring to Peekskill's previous connections. "He's in pretty good shape. He's got a license to be anything. I nominated him to the Red Smith in case it comes off [the turf]."

After not running any horses on Thursday, Laboccetta will send out Right to Refuse in Friday's nightcap, a $20,000-$17,500 claiming event for colts and geldings at one mile. Right to Refuse was beaten a head under these conditions at Belmont Park two starts back. He could be the main speed from the rail in the 11-horse field.

Laboccetta, whose father trained 1982 Kentucky Derby favorite Air Forbes Won, rode for about seven years before being injured and retiring. He began training on his own in the summer of 2000 but did not record his first winner until New Year's Day, 2001.

"I try to stay away from the young horses for now," Laboccetta said. "I want to start out, get some exposure, and win as many races as I can."

At least for the last two weeks, Laboccetta has done just that.

Pregman hopes for dry conditions

Spice Island has turned out to be an exceptional claim for trainer John Pregman and owner Kim Buttenhoff's Dunlea Park Ltd.

Claimed for $40,000 on Aug. 26, 2002, Spice Island has earned more than $286,000 for her current connections and is coming off a

6 1/4-length romp in the $150,000 Dowager Stakes at Keeneland. Saturday, Spice Island will try for that important graded-stakes placing when Pregman sends her out in the Grade 2, $150,000 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct.

Pregman said he and Buttenhoff claimed Spice Island as a potential broodmare prospect, because Buttenhoff will soon begin standing stallions at Empire Stud in New York. Once Pregman was able to get Spice Island to the turf, she turned into a racehorse, with three wins, three seconds, and a third from seven starts. Her breeding plans are on hold.

"She just came into her own after we finally got her on the grass, and she's just been awesome," Pregman said. "She's been an excellent claim."

Spice Island has shown an affinity for marathon distances, which is why Pregman is eyeing the Long Island, run at 1 1/2 miles. In addition to winning the Dowager at 1 1/2 miles, Spice Island finished a hard-charging second in the Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware at 1 3/8 miles.

Pregman's one concern Saturday is the course condition. He believes Spice Island prefers firmer turf than she is likely to get on Saturday. Nevertheless, Spice Island did run well in two starts over yielding ground in the spring.

Victor Carrero will ride Spice Island on Saturday.

McGaughey baffled by listless Saarland

Trainer Shug McGaughey said he was "baffled" by Saarland's sixth-place finish as the favorite in Tuesday's Stuyvesant Handicap and said no determination has been made on the horse's racing future. McGaughey was hoping to use the Stuyvesant as a stepping-stone to the Cigar Mile on Nov. 29.

"We're re-evaluating," said McGaughey, who trains Saarland for Cynthia Phipps. "I thought he went into it great. . . . If he came running and got beat on the money like Thunder Blitz or Gander, you could say there just wasn't any pace. But, he didn't run any good."