06/08/2006 12:00AM

A.J. Melini to have company this time


MIAMI - The Maryland My Maryland Stakes proved to be a cakewalk for A.J. Melini after he was able to control all the pace in the 1 3/16-mile overnight race. But Saturday's 1 1/2-mile New York New York Stakes at Calder may turn out to be more difficult for A.J. Melini, the likely favorite, who is not expected to make the lead so easily this time around.

The New York New York shares top billing on Saturday's 13-race program with the Heckofaralph Stakes, carded at five furlongs on the turf. Each race carries a $45,000 purse.

surprisingly outran defending champ Sir Ray to the front in the opening quarter-mile of the Maryland My Maryland and then steadily increased his advantage from there, drawing out to an easy seven-length victory over Hopefortheroses, with Tacit Agreement another 2 3/4 lengths back in third. But A.J. Melini is unlikely to take the early advantage away from the speedy Lake Kerr in the New York New York, and the key to the race is whether he'll be able to duplicate his previous performance from off the pace while stretching out to 12 furlongs for the first time in his career.

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. entered A.J. Melini in an overnight turf stakes on Friday but is expected to scratch out of that race for the New York New York. Hopefortheroses and are also cross-entered in both races and could prove to be the major beneficiaries, along with Stars of Silver, should the presence of Lake Kerr prevent A.J. Melini from repeating his last effort.

, fourth in the Maryland My Maryland, finished a fast-closing second in the 2005 edition of the New York New York and is the only member of the field with experience at the distance. Stars of Silver rallied from last, 16 lengths off the lead, to fall a neck short of catching Perspicacious in last year's New York New York.

The Heckofaralph drew the usual suspects and figures to be a very competitive race if it goes as scheduled on grass. Dirtymoposse, Gin Rummy Champ, True Love's Secret, and Placido, who finished less than a length apart in the Reappeal Stakes on May 13, all return and will be joined by key contenders Lox and Kippers and Marley's Revenge.

Gin Rummy Champ may have been best in the Reappeal but was forced to steady sharply behind a wall of horses while full of run in late stretch.

Lox and Kippers did not compete in the Reappeal but figures to have a large say in the pace of the Heckofaralph, and forms a potent one-two punch along with stablemate True Love's Secret.