12/30/2006 1:00AM

Sentiment on side of Crafty Bear

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Crafty Bear hasn't raced at shorter than six furlongs since his career debut or been closer than fourth at the first two calls of his last two races. He has also yet to run over anything other than a fast track.

Despite those glaring form flaws and a forecast that calls for rain on New Year's Day, Crafty Bear is the track's 9-5 morning line favorite - and the sentimental choice - for the $90,000 Dancing Count Stakes for 3-year-olds going 5 1/2 furlongs at Laurel Park.

Crafty Bear will be the last horse to start under the name of Hall of Fame trainer Bud Delp, who died Friday.

"He loved to develop young horses and this is just another horse that he's developed into what looks like a horse that's going to be around for a while," said Cleve Delp, his father's youngest son and assistant trainer. "It would be great to have him win because the last win picture I have with my dad is with this horse."

Crafty Bear was cross-entered in a seven-furlong allowance Sunday at Charles Town, but will stay in Maryland for the Dancing Count.

"The race sets up well for him," Cleve Delp said. "I know the distance isn't ideal, but there are some good speed horses in the race and if he kicks in from the quarter pole home we should do very well."

Crafty Bear has been second, third, and fourth going longer against open stakes company in his three most recent races. Although he has yet to prove he can handle an off track, Crafty Bear has the best Tomlinson rating (392) for a wet surface than any of his five rivals.

New England shipper Crafty Fox, recent maiden winner Place Your Bet, and the West Virginia-based Heezafrequentflyer all like to run up front, and they could set things up for Crafty Bear.

Disco Fox most recently romped by 8 1/2 lengths in a stakes restricted to Massachusetts-breds at Suffolk Downs.

Place Your Bet surprised 10 opponents and the betting public when he won his career debut by a length at 29-1 two weeks ago.

Heezafrequentflyer, a distant second going 5 1/2 furlongs in his only previous start at Laurel, comes off a fast second-level allowance victory in a 4 1/2-furlong race at Charles Town.