09/25/2003 12:00AM

Tuttle closes gap on Agosti and Giliforte

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - By winning three races last week, Chris Tuttle edged closer to Layne Giliforte, who is in second-place in the trainers standing here. Giliforte goes into the weekend with 37 wins, three more than Tuttle.

Tuttle, who was slow off the mark this year, appeared to have a good chance to narrow the gap significantly on Tuesday. A track that came up muddy, however, weakened his hand.

Number One Sheikh, a star in Tuttle's barn, was scratched from Tuesday's sixth race, a starter allowance. Number One Sheikh won two races here earlier in the summer, and finished third after a poor start at Mountaineer Park Sept. 7.

"[Number One Sheikh] doesn't like a muddy track," Tuttle said. "I don't want to see him hurt himself because he's trying too hard on it. He's too nice a horse."

In Tuesday's fourth race, Tuttle's entry of Prospice, a first-time starter, and Yagudin, ran one-two. Finishing third was the Giliforte-trained co-favorite, Garrison Hill.

In the final race of the day, Tuttle saddled 4-5 favorite Big Brown Bear. Never in contention, Big Brown Bear finished sixth.

Tuttle, 28, worked as an assistant to Giliforte, among others, before going out on his own in 2000.

Starting with three horses, he finished his first year in third place in the trainer standings, one win behind second-place Mike Newell. In the last two years, Tuttle was the meet's second-leading trainer.

The win production of both Tuttle and Giliforte has fallen substantially this year. A year ago this week, Giliforte led all trainers with 63 wins. Next was Tuttle,with 54.

Giliforte raises his sights

Giliforte, who has been the Fort's top trainer each of the past five years, and by lopsided margins, shrugs at the likelihood of being unseated. He trails current leader Tom Agosti by four wins.

"You sacrifice certain things to get better horses," said Giliforte, 35, who has been playing the claiming game less this year than in the recent past. He has been concentrating more on such high-profile owners as John Franks and Eugene Melnyk, who are players on the North American scene.

"I wouldn't trade it for a leading trainers title," Giliforte said. "Being associated with these people is what I always worked for. From this caliber of owner, someday I might get that big horse."

Giliforte said he has close to 40 horses for the two owners, and they have made around 100 starts combined.

"You can't race these horses as often," said Giliforte. "Races for this type don't always go. And a lot of them are for the turf and the turf season is coming to an end."

Magic Jack likes Fort Erie oval

Magic Jack, who has found Fort Erie much to his liking, will be seeking his third straight win here Saturday.

The 3-year-old colt was sent to trainer Myckie Neubauer after being winless in 10 starts, all at Woodbine. He was sixth in his last start there July 17, at the $16,000 claiming level.

Forty days later, Neubauer sent out Magic Jack to win a maiden special weight here. Then he won an allowance race on Sept. 8.

Magic Jack is from the first crop of John the Magician, the deceased winner of Woodbine's 1997 Breeders' Stakes.

Until Wednesday, when Missus Coop won at Woodbine, Magic Jack was the only winning offspring of John the Magician, according to Magic Jack's owner Syd Cooper. "There are about 20 offspring," he said. "It looks to me as if they are late starters."