01/24/2002 1:00AM

Veteran's at his best these days


PHOENIX - By the time a horse reaches the age of 6, odds are he has seen his best days.

Someone forgot to tell that to Hangonslewpyhangon.

The veteran appears as good as - or maybe better than - ever and looks very tough in Saturday's $30,000 Swift Stakes at Turf Paradise. The 5 1/2-furlong race lured a field of seven, including the best sprinters on the grounds.

But the race goes through Hangonslewpyhangon. After getting last summer off, he came back strong as ever, finishing a close third in his comeback. He then failed to muster much of a run in the Walter Cluer, but that was at 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf, which may not be his forte anymore.

He returned to the main track Nov. 18, but going a mile couldn't hold off multiple stakes winner Eagleton. It looked as though age had caught up with him.

But then his owner and trainer, Clifford Leavitt, decided to go back to what Hangonslewpyhangon does best: sprint on dirt. He blasted foes in the Honor the Hero by five lengths - and included in that field were some of his main foes on Saturday.

To prove that no fluke, he returned Dec. 29 in an optional claimer and romped home. He is in peak form and should get a great trip stalking a ton of speed. Glen Corbett takes his usual spot in the saddle as the pair breaks from post 2.

Yet there's little room for error considering the best sprinters on the grounds are here.

Quinton's Gold was second to Hangonslewpyhangon in the Honor the Hero and while no match for the veteran that day, he is capable of big efforts when things break his way, such as a fast pace that falls apart. He could get that here.

Classy Sheikh can flat-out fly early. Only twice in his last 10 races (over 14 months) has he been beaten to the first call - one of those was in the Phoenix Gold Cup, when he faced Freespool, possibly the quickest Thoroughbred in the world for a half-mile. The other instance came in Southern California after a five-month layoff.

Classy Sheikh will be winging again early here, and his smart win at six furlongs Jan. 13 shows he comes here sharp with all his speed in tact.

Higher Goal can also sizzle early, and like Classy Sheikh comes off a smart recent win. He romped over nonwinners-other-than foes on Jan. 18.

No Cal Bread, like Hangonslewpyhangon, could fall into a dream trip. He is at his best from off the pace, so should the speed sizzle and fall apart he could be along to pick up the pieces. No Cal Bread was nowhere in the Dec. 15 Honor the Hero as the 5-2 chalk, but was his first start in two months. Previously he had beaten Hangonslewpyhangon here in October.

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