12/18/2003 12:00AM

Locals outnumbered this time


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Historically, the Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct racetrack has been a New York trainer's race. The list of the trainers of the last 10 winners of the six-furlong, late-fall stakes reads like a Who's Who of winter-meet leaders: Juan Serey, Joseph Orseno, Richard Dutrow Jr., James Jerkens, Howard Tesher, and Gasper Moschera.

Playing the home-team angle for Sunday's Gravesend, the last graded stakes of the year in New York, would narrow the field considerably, because only three of the eight horses being considered for the stakes as of Friday are based in New York: Peeping Tom, Papua, and Way to the Top.

Mike Hushion, the trainer of Papua, was at a loss on Thursday morning to explain the success of New York horses in Gravesends past. "I really don't know what the answer to that is," Hushion said. "My guess is that in the other runnings, probably 80 to 90 percent of the field were New York horses. That's not the case this year."

The five out-of-state horses include four horses whose last start came in the De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park on Nov. 15. That group is led by Shake You Down, an outside candidate as the year's sprinting champion. Shake You Down won five starts in a row this year, including four graded stakes, but he finished third and second in his two Grade 1 starts, the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the De Francis.

Still, the sprint division lacks a dominating horse this year, and the Gravesend will be run just as voters begin assessing the contenders. Ballots were mailed out last week, and all votes must be in by Dec. 29. A final win by Shake You Down in a graded race would help his cause.

Scott Lake, the trainer of Shake You Down, isn't holding his breath, however. Lake said on Friday that padding the horse's record for Eclipse Award voting had "absolutely nothing to do" with entering Shake You Down in the Gravesend.

"I don't think he has any shot to get the Eclipse Award," Lake said. "He had a good year, but he didn't have any Grade 1 wins. The reason we're in on Sunday is because the horse is doing real good, he came out of the De Francis in terrific shape, and we're pretty confident in him."

Other probables for the Gravesend as of Friday were Presidentialaffair, Gators N Bears, Crossing Point, and Highway Prospector. All but Presidential-affair came out of the De Francis, which was won by A Huevo, with Gators N Bears third, Crossing Point eighth, and Highway Prospector failing to finish. New York-based Way to the Top, trained by Bruce Levine, also last raced in the De Francis, finishing fourth.

* Because of the holidays, Aqueduct will be dark next week Monday through Thursday. Entries for Dec. 26 will be taken on Dec. 20, and entries for Dec. 27, will be taken on Dec. 21. Entries will return to the regular schedule with the Dec. 28 card closing on Dec. 26.

* Three stakes are scheduled for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after the holiday, one each day. The Maria's Mon, a $60,000 stakes for 2-year-olds, will be run next Friday; the $75,000 Gallant Fox Handicap, for 3-year-olds and older at 1 5/8 miles on Saturday; and the $75,000 Alex M. Robb Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on Sunday.