02/26/2008 12:00AM

Bill Place in tough return spot

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A tough field of eight sprinters - five with stakes experience - clash in Thursday's featured eighth race, a $52,000 optional claimer with second-level allowance conditions.

The six-furlong dash features the return of Bill Place, winner of the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes last April, who makes his first start in more than six months for Tony Dutrow.

Dutrow claimed Bill Place for $50,000 from his second start as a 2-year-old, and the gelding developed into one of the better early-season 3-year-old sprinters of 2007, with wins in the Jimmy Winkfield and Bay Shore, and a second in the Fred Capossela Stakes. He is back in for $50,000 on Thursday.

"He's been reliable and he's training good, but it's not an easy race to come back in," Dutrow said.

Whistlin' and Trophy Road dueled through fast fractions on a muddy track Dec. 29, and seem likely to hook up once again. Whistlin' got the best of Trophy Road that day and subsequently ran second in a pair of New York-bred stakes for Gary Contessa. Whistlin' recorded a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure dueling with Bustin Stones (who improved to 5 for 5 winning the Grade 2 General George) in an overnight stakes and was then edged at 1-2 in the Hollie Hughes by the multiple stakes winner Gold and Roses.

Trophy Road was claimed out of his local bow for $75,000 by David Jacobson and set a strong pace when second best in this condition next time out.

The early fractions may also be contested by Zipperoo, who has won 3 of 6 starts since trainer Jim Bond equipped him with blinkers, and Pass the Punch, who helped set the table for Bill Place in last year's Bay Shore by dueling through blazing fractions of 21.60 and 44.20 seconds.

The beneficiary of a meltdown could be My Golden Opinion, a first-level allowance winner at Saratoga last summer who returns from a freshening with a trainer change to Ed Barker.

"The race he ran at Saratoga could put him in the hunt here," Barker said. "He's training well, but this looks like a tough spot."

My Golden Opinion looks to have been out of his element in his last two starts of 2007, when he chased multiple stakes winner Inca King in the $150,000 Bryan Station Stakes on turf at Keeneland and then faced Johnny Eves - who came back to win the Grade 1 Malibu - on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park.

Unbridled Danger and Silver Light complete the field.