01/07/2010 1:00AM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Gary Contessa

After wrapping up his fourth straight New York training title, with 112 wins in 2009, the G-man is the one to catch and beat in 2010 after a New Year's Day triple with Ampart Ridge ($4.20), Star of New York ($3.10), and Wadi Suki ($34). Wadi Suki, nursed along on the front end by the unheralded Nelson DeSouza, is just the latest example that stretch-out sprinters need to be examined closely on the inner track, particularly when drawn toward the inside and likely to control the pace.

Jonathan Thomas

Who? Well, the chief local assistant for Todd Pletcher, whose meet-leading 14-for-32 record includes five stakes winners. Tiger's Rock ($25.60), the longest price among three uncoupled entrants from the barn, captured the last 2009 stakes race when he overtook odds-on stablemate Nite Light in the Gallant Fox on New Year's Eve. Distorted Passion ($5.20) won the first 2010 stakes after tracking the pace, going clear in midstretch, and fending off stablemate Awesome Ashley in the Interborough on New Year's Day.

Kiaran McLaughlin

Back from a medication suspension on New Year's Eve, he won with six of his first seven starters: That's How I Roll ($8.80) and Extra Sharp ($6.80) won off respective layoffs of 73 and 105 days at Laurel and the Pha, and the stable went 4 for 5 on the inner dirt with Keep Thinking ($4), a $2.4 million maiden graduate; Brilliant Son ($12.20), who overcame a stumbling start to win second back from an extended layoff; Redding Colliery ($5.70), a stretch-out who controlled the pace (gee, what a surprise); and Brake Lights ($8.50), a stretch-out maiden winner now eyeing the Whirlaway Stakes on Feb. 6.

Javier Castellano

He went on an 8-for-19 tear last week, beginning with a four-bagger Dec. 30.

TRACK TRENDS

Horses who were up close - and particularly toward the inside - appeared to have the upper hand as racing resumed Dec. 30 following a two-day break. None of the day's six sprint winners was positioned any worse than third at the first call, capped by a two-speed number of Of All Times ($5.90) and 47-1 Victorious Affair. Going two turns, San Naa set the pace inside at 17-1 and succumbed only in the final strides to the Pletcher-trained 8-5 choice Sawtooth Mountain, and Sharp Instinct ($8.10) went turf to dirt and widened on the front end by nearly nine lengths for the Pletcher-Castellano combo.

Winners came from all paths and running-style persuasions Dec. 31.

The 2010 season kicked off with a mildly speed-favoring track. There were only two wire-to-wire winners, but none of the other seven winners was more than two lengths behind at the first call.

On the one hand, the Saturday, Jan. 2, card could've been deemed speed favoring, considering that seven of the nine winners either led throughout or stalked from second position in the early going, including the overlaid Laus Deo ($22.80) in the Count Not-So-Fleet. He needed 1:44.91 to wire the race (the aforementioned Brake Lights covered the same mile and 70 yard in 1:43.50 under the same conditions earlier on the card). But how then to explain a $4,226 daily double - the second-highest in New York history - comprising deep-closing longshots Hudson Heights ($223), who came from 10th in a 12-horse field, and Gold Vendetta ($60), who was 10th of 11 turning for home?

COMING ATTRACTIONS

It's all 3-year-old fillies all the time this weekend.

By Tuesday night, Saturday's Busanda Stakes at a mile and 70 yards was expected to draw Anchorage, Dixieland Melody, Judge Sonya, and Summer Honor, with Dictate the Tempo a possible starter.

The six-furlong Ruthless at six furlongs was originally scheduled for last Sunday's card that was scrapped because of cold and high winds. It was to be redrawn Thursday and reopened to all original nominees, as well as any supplemental entries. The original field was five, headed by November maiden winners Age of Humor, Wild News, and Funny Feeling.

PAYOFF OF THE WEEK

When Hudson Heights prevailed in a four-way photo - aptly edging out even-money favorite Empty Wallet - it marked the highest win mutuel on the circuit in more than a decade and, along with Gold Vendetta, triggered the first pick four in New York that paid out on three out of four winners; one sympathizes with the lone bettor who was alive for a $170,000 payoff with runner-up Kid Freud in the anchor leg.

Hudson Heights snapped a winless steak for trainer Colum O'Brien that stretched back to November 2008 - and if you're wondering how a $223 winner affects ROI totals, O'Brien's on dirt, in sprints, and with claimers went from $0 to $10.14, $7.43, and $17.15, respectively.

Meanwhile, the bombardier pilot was Alex Bisono, who has been lighting up the toteboard on a consistent basis since shifting his tack from California in the fall.

Bisono won with two of 18 mounts at Aqueduct's fall meet, winning with Puddin On the Ritz ($62) for Steve Jerkens and Magnification ($14.20) for David Duggan.

Since the switch to the inner track, Bisono entered this week with a 3-for-39 record and a $7.25 ROI.

In addition to Hudson Heights, he also brought in How Cool Is That ($14.40) and Reflect Times ($45.60) for Paulo Lobo.

HORSES TO WATCH

Aquino

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Last race: Dec. 30, 8th

Finish: 6th by 10 3/4

Making his first start in nearly a year in a third-level allowance sprint, the import from Uruguay stumbled at the start, steadied in tight quarters while attempting to move up at the five-eighths pole, then was carried out and forced to steady again in the vicinity of the three-sixteenths pole.

Brake Lights

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Last race: Jan. 2, 4th

Finish: 1st by 9 1/2

Purchased as a weanling for $220,000 in November 2007, this Saint Liam colt lugged in a bit greenly when unveiled in a sprint over a muddy track but improved a ton to draw off when stretched out to a mile and 70 yards. The 3-year-old is being targeted to the Whirlaway Stakes here Feb. 6.

Fiddlers Patriot

Trainer: George Weaver

Last race: Jan. 2, 7th

Finish: 2nd by 2 3/4

Stepping up in class after a win over first-level New York-bred allowance sprinters, he stumbled after being bumped at the start, was fanned five wide leaving the turn, and angled in through traffic to get up for second in a game effort. Award an extra check mark if he catches a wet, sealed track.

Frenchonionsoup

Trainer: Scott Schwartz

Last race: Dec. 30, 7th

Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4

After being returned from a layoff, this sprinter won or placed in five consecutive starts to close out his 3-year-old campaign, capped by two big-figure wins at the fall meet and a tough-trip second in a starter allowance on the inner track first time off the claim.