07/07/2003 11:00PM

Alter Ego finds spot at long last

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Kim Laudati welcomed the challenge when trainer Gary Contessa put his Monmouth division in her name while he served a 20-day suspension for drug positives in New York.

"It was his idea," Laudati said. "It's been fun but it's been really stressful at the same time.

"You have the added phone calling with the owners. Instead of communicating with Gary between two and five times a day, now it's 35 times a day. That makes it hard."

Laudati, who has worked for Contessa "off and on for 18 years," is looking forward to July 19, when Contessa returns and she goes back to her old role as exercise rider and supervisor of the 27-horse New Jersey string.

But there are horses to be run in the interim, including Alter Ego in the featured $43,000 optional claiming allowance on Thursday's card.

Alter Ego will run for a $60,000 tag in the mile and 70-yard race. Leading rider Joe Bravo will be aboard.

Alter Ego won his last start with a solid rally - a $50,000 claimer at Delaware Park on May 19. It's been a struggle to find a spot for him since.

"He finally got in," Laudati said. "We've been trying to enter him for six weeks here, New York, and Delaware. None of the races would go."

Contessa claimed Alter Ego from Benny Perkins last summer at Monmouth. Besides the Delaware win, Alter Ego won races for Contessa at The Meadowlands, Aqueduct, and Laurel.

Alter Ego has not performed well at Monmouth. He is winless in seven starts here, but he has three seconds and one third.

The race attracted a pair of entries: First Amendment and Native Two Stepper for leading owner Michael Gill, and Hero's Glow and Casino Raider for Philadelphia Park-based trainer Guadalupe Preciado.

First Amendment drops in for the $60,000 tag after consecutive disappointments in Maryland stakes. He is the controlling speed in the eight-horse field. On his best, he can carry that speed a long way, as he did in a gate-to-wire allowance romp at Laurel in January.

Native Two Stepper won his last start at Monmouth in a $32,000 claimer. Like his stablemate, Native Two Stepper can set the pace. However, he has also shown an ability to settle in for a stalking trip.