05/22/2002 12:00AM

Zucker revisits his roots


ELMONT, N.Y. - You can tell by the big grin on his face that trainer Howard Zucker is enjoying his homecoming as he prepares Crafty C. T. for Monday's $750,000 Metropolitan Mile Handicap at Belmont Park.

Zucker, 54, who has lived in California for the past 20 years, grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. He occasionally visits his sister in Long Island, but it has been many years since Zucker visited Belmont Park, where he first began working in the 1970's as a hotwalker and groom for, among others, trainers T. J. Kelly and George Poole.

Crafty C. T., who arrived at Belmont Park from Santa Anita on May 15, will be Zucker's first New York starter.

"It's great coming back here; to come back and win would be something else," said Zucker, who happily has spent the last week visiting his old haunts in the Bronx and feasting on corned-beef sandwiches.

Perhaps Zucker's trip down memory lane will be capped by a win from Crafty C. T., who is a legitimate contender in a very competitive edition of the Grade 1 Met Mile.

Crafty C. T. won the Grade 2 San Rafael in his third career start last year and also finished second to the 2001 Horse of the Year, Point Given, in the Santa Anita Derby. He didn't run well in two subsequent starts and was forced to sit out the remainder of the year with a bad case of ulcers.

In his 4-year-old debut at Santa Anita on March 2, Crafty C. T. turned in a huge effort by winning an optional claimer by four lengths, defeating D'wildcat, who later won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap through the disqualification of Snow Ridge. Crafty C. T. earned a 109 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.

Zucker wanted to run Crafty C. T. in last month's Carter at Aqueduct but the horse came up with a quarter crack.

"You would be a little more confident if you had a more recent race, but he has run well fresh," Zucker said. "He ran huge in his last race, considering he was on the bench. I always thought he would be a better 4-year-old. He's a different horse this year."

Crafty C. T., under Zucker's exercise rider, Roxane Losey, blazed a half-mile in 47.51 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 59.26 on the main track Wednesday. Zucker said the work was a little faster than he wanted, but remarked Crafty C. T. came back to the barn acting, "like he didn't do anything."

An exceptional lineup is expected in the Met Mile, including Left Bank, Affirmed Success, Burning Roma, Swept Overboard, Grey Memo, Aldebaran, Redattore, D'wildcat, Voodoo, and Wake at Noon.

Voodoo worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:12.72 on Wednesday at Belmont.

Forbidden Apple opts for Manhattan

Forbidden Apple was assigned 126 pounds as the highweight for Monday's $100,000-added Jaipur Handicap on the Met Mile undercard, but trainer Christophe Clement said the horse will start instead in the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap on June 8. Forbidden Apple hasn't run since finishing fourth in the Hong King Mile in December. In 2001, Forbidden Apple won the Manhattan in his first start of the year.

Shibboleth, assigned 121 pounds, will be the starting highweight in the Grade 3 Jaipur, a seven-furlong grass race. Shibboleth, a Group 3 winner in England, worked five furlongs in 1:00.76 on Wednesday.

* Evening Attire, preparing for the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on June 1, worked five furlongs in 1:01.42.