02/26/2007 12:00AM

Olivine steps up on stretchout

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Two turns agree with Olivine just fine.

The filly is unbeaten in both starts since trainer David Donk stretched her out around two bends on Aqueduct's inner track.

She won her maiden in her third start with a rallying victory in her first route attempt on Jan. 21. The follow-up was a front-running score Sunday in the $69,745 Busher Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Donk hasn't settled on her next start, but two options are on the table: the Grade 3, $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup Stakes at one mile at Turfway Park on March 24 or the $65,000 National Treasure, an overnight stakes similar to the Busher, at one mile and 70 yards at the Big A the following day.

"Obviously, she's a two-turn horse," Donk said. "We always thought that. She is by Royal Academy, so I guess someday I'm going to have the itch to try the grass. That's why Turfway is a little enticing now because it is Polytrack, and with a filly you are always trying to increase your value."

Donk admits Olivine got lucky in the Busher. Margies Smile, the expected speed horse, stumbled at the break, and Olivine wound up with an uncontested lead.

"The track has a ridiculous speed bias," Donk said. "I was a little bit fortunate and fell on the lead, and I had a great lead rider [Chuckie Lopez]. They left him alone, and it was over. On this track, if you can go to the lead and get to the rail, you've got a big advantage."

Crafty Bear Gotham-bound?

Crafty Bear might be headed down a familiar path for Maryland-based trainer Michael Trombetta.

The gelding won the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel on Feb. 3, and Trombetta is considering the Big A's Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham Stakes for 3-year-olds on March 10 as the next challenge for this recent addition to his barn.

"We're going to work him this week, and it is definitely something I am looking at," Trombetta said Monday.

Trombetta used the same schedule last year with another gelding, Sweetnorthernsaint. After winning the Miracle Wood, Sweetnorthernsaint ran third in the Gotham. From there, he rolled to an easy win in the Illinois Derby, which earned him the role of betting favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Crafty Bear, 3-1-3 in 8 starts, joined Trombetta's barn following the death of Hall of Fame trainer Bud Delp on Dec. 29. The Miracle Wood was his first start for Trombetta.

"I was lucky enough to get this opportunity," Trombetta said. "He ran really well in the Miracle Wood and stepped up good. He's training like a nice kind of horse. If the race [the Gotham] isn't bogged down with really good horses, we may take the chance."

Just like last year, Trombetta faces a quarantine quandary. Sweetnorthernsaint almost missed the Gotham because of a ban on Maryland horses following an outbreak of equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious neurological disease. The ban was lifted days before the race.

On Saturday, the New York Racing Association barred horses from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware following a confirmed case of equine herpesvirus in Virginia. "I know a little about that from last year," Trombetta said. "Whatever happens, happens."

NYRA lowers the bottom

The New York Racing Association will make a little history Wednesday when it runs a $5,000 claiming race, which goes as race 5. It is believed to be the first time since the early 1970's that a claiming race has been run for that low a price at Belmont, Saratoga, or Aqueduct. The previous bottom, which was lowered in the last few years, was $7,500.

A field of 10 was entered for the race, which will be run at six furlongs.

Racing secretary P.J. Campo said he is just trying to make the races go this winter.

"At Aqueduct in February and March you have to do what you have to do to get by," he said. "I wouldn't use it if it had seven or eight, but it got 10; I'm going to use it. People will bet on it and it's a competitive race. It's not like new horses are coming in."

Campo said that such tracks as Keeneland and Churchill Downs run $5,000 claiming races, and noted that the opening race last Saturday at Gulfstream Park was for $6,250 claimers.

"You have to write to what horses you have here," Campo said. "I wrote two [$5,000 claimers] 3 1/2 weeks apart and they'll probably both go. I'm not going to write it in the April book, but I had to do what I had to to get by in March. I think everyone is making more out of it than it is."

Leading trainer Gary Contessa, who is running the 9-year-old Sing Me Back Home in this race, doesn't see a problem with running a $5,000 claiming race in New York.

"I know that I'm going to be in the minority, but I know P.J. was banging his head against the wall trying to make races go," Contessa said. "The fact that a $5,000 claimer goes, I'm trying to help him put on a show. Why is it okay to run a $5,000 claimer at Gulfstream, but it's not okay to run one in New York?"

* An overnight snowstorm canceled training at Aqueduct and Belmont Park on Monday morning.

- additional reporting by David Grening