07/17/2002 11:00PM

Another chance for 'Esteemed'

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SALEM, N.H. - With five stakes in the books at the Rockingham meet, the score is Shippers 4, Locals 1. Esteemed Friend will try to close that gap Saturday in the $25,000 Rockingham Sprint Handicap.

Esteemed Friend, an 8-year-old gelding, instantly became the class of the region when owner Anthony Pyliotis bought him from a New York claiming race at the beginning of the year. His 17 victories while competing with the top East Coast sprinters earned him respect, and two odds-on victories at Suffolk Downs have made him a fan favorite.

The six-furlong Rockingham Sprint will give him a chance to make up for the disappointment of finishing fourth in the Moseley Breeders' Cup - the region's top sprint race. A close second in the Longfellow Stakes at Monmouth Park in his last effort shows he means business.

Trainer Dimitrios Synnefias will also enter Esteemed Friend's barnmate Binnifactor. A speedy 5-year-old, Binnifactor, won two allowance races over the Rock strip last year.

Like Esteemed Friend, Danielle's Magic is based in New England but has raced primarily in other places. He is far less accomplished as a 3-year-old taking on older foes, though can did finish third behind multiple stakes winner Gygistar in the Hallandale Beach Handicap at Gulfstream this past winter.

Curtain Time enters the Sprint Handicap off a win in allowance company three weeks ago, and will be ridden by Jorge Vargas, who won his first stakes in several years July 6 aboard Lucky Paws in the Distaff Handicap. Method Man and Stroke round out the field.

Phone it in

Suffolk Downs's phone-account wagering system was launched this week through Magna Entertainment's XpressBet. Track management also is in negotiations with Television Games Networks to accept wagers on its races and to televise them.

"We waited a long time for this," said Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Bob O'Malley. "Hopefully, it will prove to be beneficial to our business. Account wagering gives us the best chance of getting the races on television."

Account wagering was legalized as a part of a comprehensive racing relief package passed by the Massachusetts legislature last November.