10/21/2003 11:00PM

'Snake' begins comeback

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ELMONT, N.Y. - For most of the morning on Wednesday, Snake Mountain's comeback appeared to be at least another day in waiting. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens had entered Snake Mountain, a graded-stakes-winning son of A.P. Indy, in a $58,000 allowance race that had only drawn four horses.

But late Wednesday, trainer Rene Araya entered Cottage to make it five, and Snake Mountain is now set to take on four others in the 1 1/16-mile feature race on Friday after a five-month layoff. Snake Mountain was assigned high weight of 123 pounds.

Beginning last October, Snake Mountain racked up five straight wins while becoming one of the most popular horses on the New York circuit. During the streak, Snake Mountain took three consecutive Grade 3 races at Aqueduct: the Stuyvesant, Queens County, and Aqueduct handicaps.

Then, after a two-month layoff, Snake Mountain added another win to the skein with a narrow victory in the Stymie Handicap. But the streak was broken in his next start, when he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap, and after a 15 1/2-length drubbing in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special Handicap at the hands of Mineshaft, he was sent to the sidelines.

Jerkens said Snake Mountain has trained well for his comeback race, signaling that the 5-year-old gelding is ready to return to the form he displayed last fall.

"He should be ready to run real well," Jerkens said. "He's had a couple of nice long-distance trials. That's the way we've trained him in the past, and since he's not really a speed horse, he seems to prefer that."

Snake Mountain will be challenged in the allowance by Abreeze, who was claimed for $100,000 by owner John Rotella and trainer Scott Lake out of an Aug. 23 turf race at Saratoga. Abreeze is an 8-year-old gelding whose career record includes starts in England, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and the U.S.

Abreeze is 4 for 6 lifetime on the Belmont main track. His speed is his best asset, and he's capable of carrying it for 1 1/8 miles.

Any moisture in the track would be to Abreeze's benefit.

Cotto shaken up in spill

Jockey Pedro Cotto took off the remainder of his mounts on Wednesday after a bizarre spill just after the finish line of the first race. After finishing second, Cotto's mount, the 34-1 Jimmie J, swerved into the back legs of the winner, Fact Not Fiction, several strides past the wire. Cotto was thrown over the top of the horse and rolled several times while Jimmie J tumbled behind him.

Initially, Cotto rose to his knees. But he then collapsed on his stomach and was later fitted with a neck brace, strapped to a stretcher, and taken away in an ambulance to North Shore Hospital with injuries to his tongue and other "superficial injuries," according to New York Racing Association officials.

Jimmie J galloped away after the accident and did not appear to suffer any significant injuries.