02/27/2009 12:00AM

Barrier Reef tests streak in Stymie

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Barrier Reef may have been his most vulnerable in last month's Evening Attire Stakes when he was racing 15 days after running a career-best effort off a 132-day layoff.

But Barrier Reef was still talented enough to win the Evening Attire, his fourth win from five starts over Aqueduct's inner track. Now, with six weeks to recharge his batteries, Barrier Reef may need to run a new career top to win Saturday's $65,000 Stymie Stakes, which drew one of the more competitive stakes fields of the winter meet.

While Barrier Reef has won his last two, his opponents include Researcher and Manteca, both of whom bring four-race winning streaks into the 1 1/8-mile Stymie. The Stymie will be leg three of a pick-four wager with a guaranteed pool of $250,000.

Barrier Reef won a second-level allowance race by 2 3/4 lengths on Jan. 2, his first victory since taking the Whirlaway Stakes here on Feb. 2, 2008. When the Evening Attire field came up with just five horses, Albertrani reluctantly entered Barrier Reef, who held off Broadway Producer to win by a neck. Albertrani, who has won six stakes races this year between New York and Gulfstream Park, enters the Stymie feeling better about things.

"He came out of the race good; he looks like he's doing even better coming into this race," Albertrani said. "I'm hoping to see him run the same that he's run the last two times."

Ramon Dominguez will ride Barrier Reef for the third straight time.

West Virginia-based trainer Jeff Runco made a successful New York debut when he shipped Researcher in to win the Grade 3 Queens County on Dec. 13, his fourth consecutive win. Having run once a month for four straight months, Researcher skipped some other spots here this winter to await the Stymie.

"If you hit it every month, they don't always give it their best effort," Runco said. "He's had time like this before; he's had a couple of different breaks. The extra time doesn't hurt these horses."

Under the allowance conditions of the Stymie, Researcher will carry 123 pounds, nine more than he did in the Queens County. He is spotting 2 to 4 pounds to the field.

Manteca, a New York-bred son of Empire Maker, steps out of statebred competition for the first time in the Stymie. He has won four consecutive races, including the Rough Rogue Stakes last out.

"He's steadily improving," trainer Charlton Baker said. "His numbers might not show it, but the way he's been winning definitely does."

Though Manteca won his last race in front-running fashion, Baker believes the horse is better with a target to run at.

Barcola, beaten a combined 80 lengths in his last four starts, should offer a target as the main speed horse from the rail. Brilliant Son, second in the Queens County and third in the Evening Attire, is another with speed.

True Resurgence returns to the track where he won his last race. Judiths Wild Rush and Real Merchant complete the field.