11/19/2004 1:00AM

Short Route going short the right play

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PHOENIX - Short Route may take trainer Joe Herrick straight to the winner's circle in Sunday's seven-furlong Moccasin at Hollywood Park.

The filly Short Route figures to relish the return to one turn in the Moccasin. Short Route broke into the game with a win at 52-1 sprinting in her debut Aug. 1 at Del Mar. She then was thrown right into the deep end of the pool, the Generous Portion at Del Mar on Sept. 1. Short Route plugged along for a solid fourth, not bad considering her inexperience. If nothing else it validated her debut win.

Herrick wheeled her back in the seven-furlong Cover Gal Sept. 29 at Santa Anita. Breaking from the rail, she ran like a pro under jockey Cesar DeAlba. She established a good stalking position, pounced turning for home, and was edging away at the wire. Herrick had to like what he saw, and knew the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies, at Santa Anita Oct. 16 at 1 1/16 miles, presented a great opportunity.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the winner's circle in the Cal Cup. Short Route didn't stay the trip. She again established a great position, and on the far turn, it looked like a repeat of the Cover Gal as she took the lead. But the added ground got to her. She was a beaten horse at the eighth pole, and tired to fifth.

Herrick gave her a month to regroup and thinks the Moccasin is a good spot for redemption. The Moccasin is at seven furlongs, and while Short Route's daddy, Mud Route, was a multiple Grade 2 stakes winner at a route, her damsire Phone Trick is best known as one of the premier sprinters of the last 15-20 years. That combination might mean seven furlongs is Short Route's ideal trip.

But her opponents aren't mere California-breds this time. So far she has faced Cal-breds only. Now she must deal with Hello Lucky and No Bull Baby, one-two finishers in the Anoakia at Santa Anita Oct. 24. Hello Lucky is no slouch; she's won 3 of 6 starts, and her losses are to likely champion Sweet Catomine (twice) and Inspiring, who before suffering an injury was at or near the top of the 2-year-old filly list.

But the return to a short route for Short Route might reap dividends for Herrick and for those who bet her at a decent price.

Ghostzapper another Precisionist

How impressive was Ghostzapper? After watching the replays of his races this year, I think he can be compared to Precisionist. Precisionist was good enough to win the BC Sprint at six furlongs, and good enough to win Grade 1's at 1 1/4 miles. Ghostzapper is similar. In fact, the comparison is even more fitting when you look at the Beyer Speed Figures. Ghostzapper earned a 124 for his BC Classic win, matched in the Breeders' Cup only by Sunday Silence's 124 in his Classic win back in 1989 and by Artax's 124 when he won the BC Sprint a few years ago. But all were outdone by one horse, Precisionist, whose 125 Beyer in the 1985 BC Sprint is still the highest Breeders' Cup Beyer.

Keep her with own kind

I can already hear the talk and it's driving me nuts. There are horseplayers cranked up to have 2-year-old filly sensation Sweet Catomine take a shot at the boys. But I beg trainer Julio Canani and Sweet Catomine's connections to resist.

We hear this talk every year. Storm Flag Flying. Excellent Meeting. Halfbridled. Every winter, they start talking about how the top girl can beat the boys. Well, maybe they can in December, but I guarantee you by the time we get to the spring and the boys have become men, Sweet Catomine isn't going to want anything to do with them. It may not be one of the boys we know about yet, but by spring some 3-year-old male is going to grow a beard and become a beast.

So Sweet Catomine ought to stick to the proven path, target the Kentucky Oaks, win everything she's supposed to win, and her rewards will come. Let's face it, if a horse like Azeri can't be competitive against the boys, there's just no point in putting a filly up against them, at least on dirt.

Two big wishes for 2005

I have two fervent hopes for next year. One is that Ghostzapper has a healthy offseason and comes come back in the Met Mile, facing Pico Central, Midas Eyes, Pomeroy and other top one-turners. That's a race I'd pay to see.

My other hope is that Kitten's Joy is still Kitten's Joy. Reports are his surgery went well and expectations are he'll be as good as ever next year. And that's saying something because this colt has a chance to be the best American turfer since Manila, and a campaign such as the one he's eyeing for 2005 (Woodford Reserve, Manhattan, Arlington Million, Arc, and BC Turf) could make him a horse for the ages. But you're never sure how a horse will come back from surgery until he's actually in the heat of battle.