08/29/2002 12:00AM

Zabenz takes Turf Writers


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Zabenz, a New Zealand-bred who made his U.S. debut only one week ago, came back on short rest to win one of the country's most prestigious jump races, dominating the $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap by 7 1/4 lengths over a soft course at Saratoga on Thursday.

Trainer Robert Smerdon equipped him with blinkers for the Grade 1 Turf Writers Cup, and Zabenz responded by racing with the pace from the outset of the 2 3/8-mile event. He assumed command before completing two miles, drew well clear around the final bend, and despite struggling a bit over the final hurdle increased his advantage to the wire.

Double Leaf rallied from last to finish second, five lengths before former Eclipse Award winner Flat Top. Defending champ It's a Giggle, the 6-5 favorite, left the course between the eighth and ninth jumps.

Zabenz ($10.80) ran the distance in 4:28.04 under jockey Craig Thornton.