Updated on 09/16/2011 8:07AM

Sheppard goes for an even dozen

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Jonathan Sheppard tries to win his third straight Turf Writers Cup ? and 12th overall ? on Thursday with It?s a Giggle, who earlier in the meet won the A.P. Smithwick (above).

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Jonathan Sheppard will be favored to win Saratoga's premier jump race, the New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap, for the 12th time on Thursday when he sends out defending champion It's a Giggle. It's a Giggle is the 160-pound highweight in the Turf Writers, at 2 3/8 miles over National fences.

Sheppard won his first New York Turf Writers Cup, the only Grade 1 steeplechase race on the Saratoga schedule, in 1979 with Leaping Frog. He won the race four years in succession, from 1989 through 1992, with Double Bill and Yaw, and has captured the last two renewals with Ninepins and It's a Giggle.

The English-born Sheppard, 61, has trained six steeplechase Eclipse Award winners: Athenian Idol, Cafe Prince, Flatterer, Highland Bud, Jimmy Lorenzo, and Martie's Anger. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990, he is also the trainer of With Anticipation, who is among the top turf horses in the world and won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and Grade 1 United Nation handicaps in his last two starts.

It's a Giggle has won all three of his steeplechase starts this year, including the Grade 1 Royal Chase at Keeneland in the spring and the A.P. Smithwick Memorial Handicap here earlier this month.

"One of the keys to having success in this particular race is to be able to keep your horse going," said Sheppard. "The Turf Writers comes late in the season when a lot of these horses start showing a little wear and tear, so its almost a case of survival of the fittest, and if you've got a horse with a little gas in the tank you'll do well in the race."

Sheppard believes It's a Giggle comes into the Turf Writers with plenty of gas in the tank.

"He's doing great," he said. "I'm really happy with him now."

It's a Giggle breezed five furlongs over the Oklahoma turf course on Tuesday.

Gus Brown, who replaced the injured Blythe Miller aboard It's a Giggle for the Smithwick, will have the assignment again Thursday. Sheppard expects Brown will try to keep the versatile It's a Giggle just off the pace during the early stages of the Turf Writers Cup.

"It just so happens we have a couple of lead-end runners in this race, so I can't imagine he'll be in front," said Sheppard. "There once was a time this horse was considered a one-dimensional, front-end runner, but he has settled nicely off the lead in his last two races."

Janet Elliot is the only trainer other than Sheppard to win the New York Turf Writers since 1996, turning the trick with Hokan and Campanile in 1998 and 1999. This year she will send out the 9-year-old former champion Flat Top.

Flat Top was voted champion steeplechaser in 1998 after winning both the Grand National Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Colonial Cup. He has started just three times since, two of those outings coming earlier this year, when he finished third in the Royal Chase and Iroquois handicaps, both Grade 1 races.

Tres Touche, Indispensable, and Anofferucantrefuse, second, third, and fourth, respectively, behind It's a Giggle in the Smithwick, will try him again in the New York Turf Writers.

Zabenz, who won three hurdle races within 18 days in Australia earlier this year, finished third in his United States debut under allowance conditions here last week and will race in blinkers for the first time on Thursday.