01/18/2003 1:00AM

'Sassy' finally may run


Sassy Hound is by far the fastest and most accomplished sprinter in the six-horse field for Monday's $60,000 Hoover Stakes at Laurel Park.

But horseplayers are skeptical by nature and some might be wondering why Sassy Hound keeps appearing in the entries at various tracks, but hasn't run since November, when he was a close third in the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash.

Trainer Ben Feliciano has entered Sassy Hound four times since late December, including stakes at Aqueduct and Mountaineer Park, only to scratch him each time.

So bettors may wonder whether Sassy Hound is still the same sharp horse who reeled off five consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures to close out his 2002 campaign, including a 113 at Delaware Park.

Actually, there are logical explanations why Sassy Hound has been scratched so often.

Feliciano preferred the $100,000 Gravesend at Aqueduct to the $75,000 Christmas Handicap at Mountaineer, with both scheduled for Dec. 26. Sassy Hound traveled to New York, but a snowstorm wiped out the card and the horse endured a rough trip vanning back to Maryland, so Feliciano didn't want to make the return trip when the race was rescheduled for three days later.

Crossing Point, another horse trained by Feliciano, ran instead of Sassy Hound when both were entered for a Jan. 2 allowance at Laurel. A week later, discretion seemed the better part of valor when Sassy Hound was scratched after 9-year-old Affirmed Success popped up in the entries for an allowance at Aqueduct.

Seeking a prep for next month's Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel, Feliciano seems to have found an ideal spot for Sassy Hound to shake off the rust in the six-furlong Hoover. He gets in light at 115 pounds and doesn't have to face stiff competition.

His sharpest rival is Shake the Dice, who has won four in a row, all against optional claiming or high-priced claiming company.

Griffinite faced a steady diet of Grade 1 and Grade 2 handicap horses last season, mostly in 1 1/8-mile races. In his first start for new trainer Lupe Preciado, however, Griffinite cut back to six furlongs and was a sharp second, elevated to first via disqualification, in an allowance at Philadelphia Park.

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