11/04/2008 1:00AM

Once-mighty Songster returns off long layoff


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Whether or not Songster remains the same is the key to Thursday's eighth race, a $56,000 classified allowance that could easily pass for a stakes.

Songster drew in the middle of a seven-horse field with a combined 36 victories and over $2 million in earnings. Breaking to his inside are Grand Champion, who won the 2007 Fall Highweight in his last start at Aqueduct; Boss Zach, who steps up seeking his third straight win; and Suave Jazz, runner-up in last year's Grade 2 True North Handicap.

Drawn outside Songster are Praying for Cash, a graded stakes winner; Silver Stetson Man, a four-time winner on synthetic tracks who proved equally fast on dirt in two recent starts at Belmont; and He's So Chic, who has been off since chasing Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Fatal Bullet back in July.

Songster, 5, has been away from the races for nearly 18 months, and has raced just once in the past 26 months. In 2006, he finished second in the Bay Shore in the slop - his only Aqueduct appearance - and then developed into one of the nation's top 3-year-old sprinters by winning the Grade 3 Hirsch Jacobs at Pimlico and the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park for Darley Stable and trainer Tom Albertrani.

At 4, Songster was transferred to Godolpin Stables and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, but as it turned out his only start was a front-running win in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap early at Belmont's spring meet. While training toward Saratoga's Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Songster strained a ligament. Eventually, he was retired to begin a career at stud, but fertility problems led to his being returned to training in March and back with Albertrani once more.

"From the first day I got him back he acted as if he never left," said Albertrani, who led the trainer standings with three wins the first week at Aqueduct, including the Long Island Handicap with Criticism for Darley. "He acts exactly the same. He trains the same - just a nice horse to have back in the barn."

Songster did not have a published workout in September, but worked five times in October, including a bullet five-eighths from the gate.

"If he comes out and wins, that would be great," Albertrani said. "But I could also see where he might need one to get himself back in action - but I'm not expecting that."