04/09/2012 1:15PM

Aqueduct: Justin Phillip takes a drop

Barbara D. Livingston
Justin Phillip, with Ramon Dominguez riding, wins the Woody Stephens.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – After competing in 10 consecutive graded stakes, Justin Phillip seeks some class relief in a $66,000 third-level allowance race Wednesday at Aqueduct.

The question handicappers must grapple with is whether Justin Phillip can return to the form that made him a graded stakes winner 10 months ago.

Justin Phillip will face only four rivals in the 6 1/2-furlong race, which also carries an optional claiming option of $75,000, for which Rock Yard and Peter’s Creek are being offered.

Justin Phillip won the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont last June but ended his 3-year-old campaign with four consecutive losses in graded company.

He made his 4-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Tom Fool, which came up one of the fastest races of the year, with Calibrachoa edging Caleb’s Posse by a neck. Not surprisingly, Justin Phillip finished last, beaten eight lengths.

“That was just a tough race to come back in,” said Toby Sheets, the New York-based assistant for trainer Steve Asmussen. “He came out of the race in good order, and I think having a race under his belt he should improve off that.”

There is a 30-percent chance of showers Tuesday into Wednesday, and any moisture in the track would benefit Justin Phillip, who has recorded two of his three wins on an off track.

Que Posse returned from seven-month layoff to win a second-level allowance race by 2 1/4 lengths on March 16. The win gave trainer Kiaran McLaughlin his 1,000th career victory in North America.

McLaughlin said there was no significant issue that forced him to stop on Que Posse last August, but that the break obviously served the horse well.

“He didn’t go away. He stayed here, he came back and ran huge,” McLaughlin said “This is a little quick back off such a big performance, but it’s a five-horse field with a big purse and he’s doing very well. We’re confident he’ll run well.”

Arch Traveler won the Ziggy’s Boy Stakes last May and was third to Justin Phillip as the favorite in the Woody Stephens. He has finished last in both of his starts this year, including a three-length loss in an overnight stakes over the inner track on March 18.

Rock Yard came back off a eight-month layoff to run third behind Crossbow in a similar spot as this in Feb. 23.

Peter’s Creek, who has not run since last May at Parx, makes his 7-year-old debut for trainer Michael Trombetta, who is 26-percent with horses returning from layoffs of six months or greater the last two years.