01/19/2007 1:00AM

Three noteworthy old-timers


NEW YORK - The names of Cool N Collective, Raffit, and Spooky Mulder will not be called from the podium in Beverly Hills on Monday night when the best racehorses of 2006 will be crowned with Eclipse Awards. While this trio of winter warriors may seem like Beverly Hillbillies next to the Eclipse honorees, their recent modest but gritty accomplishments over the Aqueduct inner track are in their own way as compelling as the achievements of last year's champions.

Cool N Collective was within hailing distance of the sport's upper echelons back in 2000, when the Canadian-bred son of Ruhlmann was a close third in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie and second in the then-Grade 2 Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands. He never hit the board in a graded stakes again but made four consecutive appearances in the $100,000 Elgin at Woodbine and three in the Schaeffer Mile at Hoosier, hitting the board in all seven of those tries.

Last summer, after seven years in trainer Dennis Manning's barn, he began running for claiming tags for the first time as a 9-year-old, eventually being haltered for $16,000 by Juan Serey. In his final start of the year, Bruce Levine took him for $10,000.

Freshened up and dropped to a career-low $7,500 tag at Aqueduct last Monday, Cool N Collective became a winner again in his first start as a 10-year-old, cruising to a two-length score over the 8-year-old Valiant King.

As unusual as it is to see a 10-year-old still running, much less winning, at top tracks, it happened two hours earlier the same day at Gulfstream when Top Bunk, a 10-year-old Dixie Brass gelding won a $9,000 claimer for his 17th victory in 78 career starts.

By comparison, Raffit is a spring chicken. A 7-year-old with just 16 career starts, Raffit's past performances are strewn with layoff lines and flashes of promise followed by lengthy absences. A son of Raffie's Majesty, bred by trainer H. James Bond and his wife, Tina Marie, Raffit won a maiden race by 18 lengths four years ago, then was beaten two noses in a statebred stakes, but never stayed sound long enough to build on those early accomplishments, until now.

It turns out what Raffit can do consistently is something American horses are rarely asked to do at all any more: run 1 1/2 miles on the dirt. On Dec. 15, in a statebred allowance race at 12 furlongs, Raffit jogged an opening six furlongs on the lead in 1:17.92, and he scampered home in 1:16.28 for an eight-length romp in 2:34.20. When he returned against the same company at the same distance Jan. 10, smartypants handicappers like this one played against him, predicting he would never get away with such a pokey pace again. He didn't. Sitting just off a "quicker" pace of 1:15.14, Raffit took over after a mile and won by daylight again, coming home in 2:35.87.

Raffit went unclaimed for $30,000 and now he's out of statebred conditions, so he might have to wait until the 13-furlong Coyote Lakes and Gallant Fox next December to get back to his new favorite game.

Then there's Spooky Mulder, the 9-year-old Brunswick gelding who lost little stature running a dull sixth in Friday's Aqueduct feature, where he was seeking his 30th career victory in 73 starts. Claimed back for $75,000 for a third tour of duty with owner Bruce Golden and trainer Scott Lake five starts ago, Spooky Mulder may be the most popular veteran racehorse in New York and he's certainly the most durable and consistent. In both 2004 and 2006, he won races on all four of the New York Racing Association's dirt tracks - Aqueduct main, Aqueduct inner, Belmont, and Saratoga. Earlier in his career, he hit a similar superfecta in Kentucky, winning at Churchill, Ellis, Keeneland, and Turfway in 2002.

A six-furlong specialist who has been within three lengths of the lead after the opening quarter in 71 of his 73 starts, Spooky Mulder has made a career of coming again when headed in deep stretch and winning most of the many photos he has been in at the wire. About the only thing he hasn't done is win a stakes race, a category in which he's 0 for 16, albeit with seconds in the Lure, Paumonok, and Icecapade and a third in the 2003 Claiming Crown Sprint. Last April 20, he ran a 108 Beyer winning an allowance race in which he edged Silver Train, the 2005 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner.

There has got to be an added-money race somewhere he can win before he retires, since he's still routinely firing Beyers in the high 90's in weekday features in New York. If Golden and Lake can't find a soft spot out of town, maybe Aqueduct could write one of those overnight $65,000 stakes for nonwinners of a sweepstakes and restrict it to horses with at least 17 career victories in New York. More seriously, whenever he's done, there should be a Spooky Mulder Stakes in perpetuity. Six furlongs on the inner sounds perfect.