01/21/2003 1:00AM

Martin magic works at Big A


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - For Greg Martin, fewer horses has meant more wins.

Martin, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Frank "Pancho'' Martin, is enjoying a career meet with nine wins from 29 starters since Aqueduct's inner track opened on Dec. 4. Since Jan. 12, Martin has five wins and a second from seven starters. Martin is tied with Bruce Levine for fourth in the standings behind Gary Contessa (16), Richard Dutrow Jr. (12), and Bob Barbara (10).

Martin said one of the keys to his success this winter has been reducing the number of horses he has in the barn. In the summer, Martin said his stable swelled to 28 head, and he had horses stabled in multiple barns on the Belmont backstretch.

"I couldn't keep an eye on things,'' Martin, 35, said. "I like to be hands-on with everything. I have 16 or 17 horses, everything in one barn, and I can keep an eye on everything.''

Martin, who is also the brother of trainer Jose Martin and the uncle of trainer Carlos Martin, said a virus swept through his barn during the summer, knocking several horses out of action. From July 13 through Oct. 24, Martin endured a 0-for-38 slump.

Another key to Martin's recent run has been placing horses properly. Sometimes that means dropping a horse for less money than he and his owners claimed it for. That was the case with Casanova Slammer, whom Martin claimed for $35,000 and won with for $25,000; Mighty Gulch, whom he claimed for $25,000 and won with for $18,000; and Stage Drama, whom he claimed for $18,000 and won with for $10,000 and $12,500 before the horse was claimed on Monday.

"I have very good owners who trust me 100 percent,'' said Martin, whose owners include John Franks. ``"They let me place them where they can win. If I claim a horse for $25,000 and he's no good, I can run him for $12,500; they want to win. The name of the game is winning. Sometimes you get away with it, you get a couple of wins and you don't lose anything.''

It has worked the other way, also. On Oct. 25, Martin claimed Infiltrator for $25,000. After he dropped him in for $20,000 and won a race, Martin put him in a second-level allowance race and Infiltrator won that, too.

Martin claimed Infiltrator for Michael Iavarone, a relatively new owner in racing. Iavarone has also made some private purchases, including the 3-year-old filly Leniently, who won her maiden in California for trainer Ted West last November.

"[Iavarone] put some money in this business, and I have free reign,'' Martin said.

While Martin has been dealing primarily with claimers, he said he is open to any situation.

"I learned from the best,'' Martin said referring to his father, with whom he shares a barn. "Given the opportunity I'll train any kind of horse.''

Gryder to take Dubai trip

Aaron Gryder will not be riding here through the weekend. He will be in Dubai to ride the promising Go Underground in Friday's Group 3 Maktoum Challenge Cup. The Maktoum Challenge is the first of three preps leading to the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29.

Go Underground, a 5-year-old son of Skip Trial who began his career in North America, has won 4 of 5 starts in Saudi Arabia for owner Prince Sultan and trainer Jerry Barton, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas. Included in that streak is an 11-length victory in the Ministry of Information Cup in Riyadh last Oct. 11.

"They're pretty high on him,'' Gryder said Monday. "This time of year when anybody's high on those kind of horses who might be headed to the World Cup it's worth taking a chance on them. I've seen tapes of him and he was very impressive in Riyadh the last time he ran. Obviously, he's going to race against better horses now that he's going to Dubai. They want to see if he's capable of taking that next step.''

Change could help Mount Intrepid

Trainer Howie Tesher hopes new equipment will help Mount Intrepid change his losing ways on Thursday when he takes on four rivals in a third-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles.

Having developed a tendency to lug in, Mount Intrepid, a 6-year-old gelding, will be equipped with a new cage bit in hopes of giving jockey Julian Pimentel better control. Mount Intrepid lugged in during the running of the Alex Robb Handicap on Dec. 29, a race in which he finished third, beaten less than one length.

"He should have won the stakes the other day,'' Tesher said. "He lugs in and when he gets between horses he's worse.''

According to Tesher, Pimentel breezed Mount Intrepid with the new equipment recently and the jockey felt it helped the gelding travel better.

Impressionist makes his first start for trainer Dominic Galluscio, who is enjoying a solid meet with an 8-1-7 record from 32 starts.

Galluscio took over the training of Impressionist in December and has liked what he has seen from the 5-year-old son of Boundary.

Colita shows promise

Colita, a son of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, stretched out in distance successfully on Monday, winning a two-turn entry-level allowance race by 1 3/4 lengths. Colita, who raced just off the early pace, covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:43.15. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 94.

Trainer Carlos Morales said he hopes to point the 3-year-old colt to the Whirlaway Stakes here on Feb. 8.

Team Valor purchased a 50 percent interest in Colita following his maiden win at six furlongs on Jan. 5. Luis Morales, the brother of Carlos, and Mercedes Alvarez each own 25 percent of Colita.