08/30/2001 12:00AM

Turf Writers No. 11 for Sheppard


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Jonathan Sheppard continued his dominance of the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap steeplechase on Thursday by sending out It's a Giggle to upset odds-on choice Praise the Prince in the $107,800, Grade 1 race.

It was the 11th time a Sheppard-trained horse has won the Turf Writers Cup, which has been run 60 times.

Under Blythe Miller, It's a Giggle made all the pace and turned back a challenge from Canta Ke Brave approaching the stretch to win by a neck. It was two lengths back to Praise the Prince, who finished third. The final time of 4:12.04 equaled the course record set by 1998 Turf Writers winner Hokan. It's a Giggle returned $8.50 to win.

It's a Giggle was not the horse Sheppard had planned to run in this race. Sheppard wanted to run Double Leaf, but on Monday that horse came up with filling in an ankle. So, Sheppard scratched It's a Giggle from a starter handicap on Wednesday and entered him in the Turf Writers.

It's a Giggle, a 7-year-old gelding who had been off for nearly three years due to various leg and back problems, had won two races already at this meet. He was in receipt of

18 pounds from Praise the Prince, who carried 160 pounds.

"Obviously, we saw something in him to give all the time," said Sheppard, who earlier this meet won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational over the flat with With Anticipation. "He raced as a 4-year-old, but then didn't race again until he was 7, which he is now."

Gus Brown, the rider of Praise the Prince, said, "The weight got to him."

Avanico fell over the final fence, suffered a broken shoulder and had to be euthanized on the track.

Schulhofer off the schneid

Trainer Scotty Schulhofer earned his first win of the Saratoga meet on Thursday when J W Black ($47.20) won the fifth race. For Schulhofer it ended an 0 for 21 skid at the meet.

"I've had bad streaks before but I never had it quite this bad," said Schulhofer, who added that in 50 meets at Saratoga as a jockey or trainer he has never left without at least one winner.

Outofthebox, into the allowance

Outofthebox, a Triple Crown candidate in the spring, runs in a third-level allowance race on Saturday's card. A field of five will go in the nine-furlong race, including Buckle Down Ben, Un Fino Vino, Justification, and My Request.

Outofthebox, who is coming off a seventh-place finish as the second choice in the West Virginia Derby, will race with blinkers for the first time.

"He really ran a lackluster race in West Virginia," said Steve Flint, son of and assistant to trainer Bernie Flint. "Jerry [Bailey] lost a little confidence in him. We threw blinkers on him and he had two great workouts with blinkers. I think he's going to be back to his old self."

Outofthebox's old self would make him very tough in Saturday's allowance race. Outofthebox began the year by winning a second-level allowance race at Gulfstream. He then finished second in both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby before injuring a foot while finishing fifth in the Flamingo.

After being turned out to allow the foot to heal, Outofthebox returned with a third-place finish in an allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Sunday: Proud Man returns

After a summer full of setbacks, Proud Man will make his return to the races off an 11-week layoff in the $100,000, Grade 3 Saranac on Sunday, the penultimate day of racing at Saratoga.

With four graded stakes victories this year, Proud Man was making a bid to be regarded as the best 3-year-old turf horse in the country. But in winning the Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont on June 16, Proud Man suffered a cut on his right hind pastern and had to be vanned off. When he was getting ready to return in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes here in August, Proud Man got sick and had to miss the race.

Although Proud Man has not been out since mid-June, his connections are not worried about him trying to get 1 3/16 miles first time off the bench.

"It's not a concern," said Jimmy Iselin, racing manager for the partnership of Robert Kaufman and Double R Stable. "If Jerry [Bailey] handles him properly and if the turf is not a bog, he'll be fine."

Bailey picked up the mount on Proud Man from Rene Douglas, who opted to stay at Arlington, where he is leading rider. Bailey, whose 11 stakes wins at this meet is a Saratoga record, has won the Saranac three times, including last year with Rob's Spirit.

Proud Man, whose other wins this year include the Tropical Park Derby, the Palm Beach and the Everglades, will be the starting highweight in the Saranac at 122 pounds. Others expected to run, and their weight assignments, are: Strategic Partner (118), Monsieur Cat (117), Bay Eagle (116), Bowman Hill (115), Please Me Doc (115), Fast City (113), and Blazing Fury (112).

Monday: Musical in tune on turf

It took trainer H. James Bond a little longer than he'd have liked to get Musical on the turf. the way she has performed in grass, it may be even longer before he takes her off it.

Musical, a 4-year-old daughter of El Gran Senor, did not make her first start on the turf until June 30. She has won two allowance races on turf - both with blinkers and with Edgar Prado aboard - and has earned a berth in Monday's $500,000 Diana Handicap on grass here.

"I always wanted to put her on the grass," Bond said. "She's a sister to [$2 million Dubai Duty Free winner] Rhythm Band, so I had no doubt she'd like the surface. It was just circumstances, life's little problems, that prevented us from getting her [on turf] until this past summer."

Musical, unraced at 2, overcame a very poor start to launch her career at 3 with an impressive 4 3/4-length victory going seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park last year. She ran third in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs in her second start.

She has had trouble leaving the gate in most of her starts.

"She's really an exciting filly," said Bond. "She's really only had one bad race and we learned afterwards she was sick. The blinkers have helped quite a bit. She still doesn't leave there perfectly, but she's close enough now it really hasn't hurt her. Obviously this will be a tough spot on Monday. I just keep my fingers crossed she'll break well and run to her ability."

Musical gets in the Diana at 113 pounds. That's a seven-pound weight break from Penny's Gold, the winner of the Ballston Spa, who carries 120. Others expected to run include Janet (119), Gaviola (118), Iftiraas (116), Babae (114), Shopping for Love (114), Starine (114) and Verruma (113).

On Thursday, Gaviola breezed five furlongs in 1:02.42 over the main track. Trainer Billy Turner said Jean-Luc Samyn will replace Jorge Chavez in the Diana. Turner was miffed that Chavez had Gaviola on the lead in the Aug. 12 Ballston Spa, in which she finished fourth.

"What a waste of a race," Turner said. "Jerry [Bailey] never had any trouble rating her, Robbie Davis never had any trouble rating her. When they go three-quarters in [1:09.60] they're not being rated. I didn't think the filly could run that fast. And then to get beat only 2 1/2 lengths . . . it made me ill."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch