12/05/2006 12:00AM

Almost everyone wants the lead in stakes route

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The run to the first turn at Aqueduct will be key in Thursday's $65,000 Don Rickles Stakes, a spot where the five fastest horses have been at their best on or near the early lead.

A field of seven 3-year-olds goes a mile and 70 yards in the overnight stakes, and there should be considerable jockeying for position as Silver Prospector, Sterwins, Valid Notebook, Starcastic, and Cavallo Pazzo all look to stake out a piece of the racetrack. A possible pace meltdown could set it up for Thundering Success, a maiden winner on the inner track last winter and the only entrant to have run on this surface; or Sir Classic Chris, a Maryland shipper who has run his two best Beyer Speed Figures on wet tracks.

Silver Prospector goes second off the claim by red-hot trainer Gary Contessa, and is favorably drawn in post 2. He has run big in all three of his dirt routes this year and comes off his two fastest races, the latest against Rhythmn Master, subsequently second in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Laurel.

Cavallo Pazzo stretches out for the first time, after winning three sprints off a layoff for trainer Tony Dutrow - maiden and first-level allowance scores at Delaware Park, followed by an eye-catching win on Aqueduct's main track 22 days ago. His average Beyer for 2006 is 98.

"He's fast, he's outside, and I could see him not getting a perfect run into that first turn," Dutrow said. "That post isn't great. But he's a nice horse and I'd like to see him go long because it would be easier on him."

Though two turns is an unknown for Cavallo Pazzo, he relaxed nicely just off the leaders and finished full of run to win by a widening margin last out.

"I'm not worried about him going two turns, because either he will or he won't," said Dutrow. "My one concern is maybe running back too quick off another big effort."

Valid Notebook is fast and consistent. He adds blinkers after a troubled stretch run in the Grade 3 Discovery, his first two-turn attempt. Prior to that, he chased Discreet Cat throughout the Grade 2 Jerome.

"He's still holding his form," said trainer Pat Reynolds. "We caught a race with a lot of speed like he's got. We put blinkers on him and popped him out of the gate [Nov. 22]. If he handles the inner and breaks well, it should be a hotly contested event, but we may have a little class edge."