03/26/2008 11:00PM

Bit more time may make a difference


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Most times, a horseman's initial instincts are the correct ones. After Stage Luck won the Affectionately Handicap in January, her connections were initially inclined to skip the Rare Treat and point to the Next Move Handicap.

But when the field for the Feb. 23 Rare Treat came up seemingly on the light side, they opted to run Stage Luck, and she finished third as the favorite, 5 1/4 lengths behind Runway Rosie, ending a three-race winning streak.

Saturday, Stage Luck will seek to turn the tables on Runway Rosie when the two meet again in the Grade 3, $100,000 Next Move Handicap, the final stakes of Aqueduct's inner-track meet.

Stage Luck, a $1.6 million yearling purchase by Darley Stable, will break from the rail in the five-horse Next Move, run at 1 1/8 miles. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the other three Next Move entrants: the Ladies Handicap winner Wow Me Free, the Rare Treat runner-up Wild Hoots, and recent allowance sprint winner Cowgirls Don't Cry.

Before the Rare Treat, Stage Luck had won her previous two starts with two months' spacing in between. That was one reason why trainer Tom Albertrani was planning to wait for the Next Move. Stage Luck had four easy breezes between the Affectionately and Rare Treat.

"We were always planning on skipping the race, and maybe we didn't do enough with her," said Andy Rehm, assistant to Albertrani. "She's doing a lot better going into this race than she was going into her last."

Stage Luck, who will be ridden by Stewart Elliott, figures to lay up close what could be an ordinary pace. Wild Hoots looks like the main speed of the race, although her stablemate Cowgirls Don't Cry - an 11th-hour addition to the field - could be a nuisance up front.

Wild Hoots pressed the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Rare Treat before taking over turning for home and giving way late to Runway Rosie.

"We wish it would have been 50 yards shorter," said Art Magnuson, assistant to McLaughlin.

Wow Me Free is cutting back in distance from 1 1/4 miles. She has not run since the Ladies three months ago. Magnuson said Wow Me Free had some foot issues, but appears to be training well now.

"She's doing well,"Magnuson said. "We don't think she'll need a race."

Runway Rosie has strung together three consecutive victories and her trainer, Gary Contessa, said the lightly built filly is "coming up to an 'A' race."