Former New Yorker trainer Howard Zucker could have a sweet homecoming when he brings Carl Grether's Crafty C. T. from California for the Nov. 30 Cigar Mile (gr. I). Zucker, 54, grew up in the Bronx and got started in racing through a friend who galloped horses at Belmont Park. After 10 years of training on the East Coast, Zucker moved west in 1982.
Zucker and Crafty C. T. will fly to New York Nov. 27. The next day, Thursday, Zucker will have Thanksgiving dinner with his sister, Joan, in Oceanside.
"It's going to be nice having Thanksgiving on Long Island," Zucker said moments after watching Crafty C. T. work a fast six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:11 2/5. Earlier this year, Crafty C. T. finished third in the Met Mile (gr. I) after getting fried on the lead while racing five wide. The son of Crafty Prospector is only 1-for-3 at the one-mile distance, but Zucker believes his charge is a superior miler."I thought he ran huge in the Met Mile," Zucker said. "He was the only one who was up on the pace to still be around at the end. Coming off the turn, he was eight wide while the winner and second horse came up the inside. He probably lost more ground on the turn than the six lengths he was beaten."Crafty C. T. is coming off an excellent performance in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) where he was only beaten a length trying to rally from off the pace."He was closing on a track that was speed favoring," Zucker said. "We were going to give him a breather after the Breeders' Cup, but after the race when we took the saddle off, he wasn't blowing hard at all. He'll have five weeks between races, which is plenty of time."Jockey Patrick Valenzuela has been aboard Crafty C. T. for the colt's last three starts and he is slated to ride the 4-year-old in the Cigar Mile. Valenzuela has not won a New York race since taking the 1994 Sword Dancer (gr. IT) aboard Alex the Great. His last New York ride was a fifth-place finish aboard Bertrando in that year's Woodward (gr. I) Sept. 17.Crafty C. T. will have to face a classy field in the Cigar. Bonapaw finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Sprint after winning the Vosburgh (gr. I) and has a one-turn mile stakes win this year. Aldebaran has finished second in three Grade I appearances this year, including the Met Mile when he was ahead of Crafty C. T. at the wire. Red Bullet, the 2000 Preakness winner, is coming off a good return effort after being away from the races for seven months. Congaree, who worked six furlongs in 1:09 4/5 at Santa Anita Tuesday, will also ship from California for the Cigar Mile. Others expected to compete are Harlan's Holiday, Multiple Choice, Nothing Flat, Resolve and Windsor Castle.