12/23/2004 12:00AM

'Quackers' could fly under radar

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MIAMI - Quackers Appeal does not have the high-profile connections of many of his nine rivals in Sunday's $40,000 Santa Claus Stakes. As a result, he could offer some real betting value in the race, a wide-open overnight stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

A locally based horse trained by Steve Dwoskin, Quackers Appeal is part of a field that includes Old Forester, who is trained by Bill Mott; Wilcox Ridge, who is trained by Todd Pletcher; and Cockleshell, who has been vanned down from Maryland by trainer Michael Dickinson.

owns both an experience and home-field advantage over much of the competition in the Santa Claus. He is in peak form, having won three straight races against older horses on the grass before losing earlier this month in the 7 1/2-furlong Pete Axthelm Stakes. Quackers Appeal is also the only member of the field to have already won a third-level allowance race.

A 3-year-old, Quackers Appeal will be facing softer opposition in the Santa Claus than he did in the Axthelm, which was not run at his best distance. Quackers Appeal had a rough trip in Axthelm, dropping to the rear of the pack during the early going before fanning seven wide off the final turn and finishing only three lengths behind multiple stakes winner Wire Bound.

Old Forester has earned much higher Beyer Figures than Quackers Appeal, whose career-best Beyer is a 90. Old Forester earned a 99 when winning his maiden and a 96 when winning an entry-level allowance condition earlier this year. He was beaten a nose by Private Scandal, however, as the 6-5 favorite in a second-level allowance race at Aqueduct on Nov. 18.

Wilcox Ridge has won two of his last three starts in handy fashion, including his local debut, in which he rallied to a 2 1/4-length first-level allowance win Dec. 5. He will be facing tougher opposition Sunday in his stakes bow.

Cockleshell has not started since finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby Oct. 16. The loss was his second straight after beginning his career with three consecutive victories.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will send out the uncoupled pair of Polo Grounds and Ecclesiastic. Polo Grounds easily defeated Wilcox Ridge when they met at Belmont on Oct. 24. Ecclesiastic is Grade 3 stakes placed on dirt but is winless in four starts over turf.

Second of June begins his comeback

Second of June, ranked among the top 3-year-olds in the country before suffering a condylar fracture in the Fountain of Youth Stakes Feb. 14, launches his comeback under optional claiming conditions in Monday's sixth race, run at 1 1/16 miles. Second of June has been working well for trainer Bill Cesare over the past several weeks and will top a seven-horse field.

* The Grade 3 Chaposa Springs Handicap, which has been moved from the Grand Slam program on New Year's Day to Dec. 31 to preserve the race's graded status, figures to rematch Alix M and D'Wildcat Speed. Trainer Bobby Frankel has also nominated Pop Princess to the race. The three 4-year-olds are among 13 horses eligible for the seven-furlong dash.

* Nominations for the first three events on the 2005 Gulfstream stakes schedule, the $125,000 Aventura for 3-year-olds and the $100,000 Hal's Hope and Mr. Prospector handicaps, close Wednesday, Dec. 29. All three stakes will be run Saturday, Jan. 8.