05/12/2008 11:00PM

Card worthy of a Saturday

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Here is the long and the short of Thursday's card at Belmont Park, the strongest midweek program in memory: the $75,000 Fit to Fight, an overnight stakes at 1 1/2 miles (race 8), and the season's first event for 2-year-old maidens at five furlongs (race 2).

Those races bookend a trio of quality optional claiming races that feature the return of Vitruvius, a highly regarded colt making his first start of the year in race 6; the graded-stakes-placed Spectacular Malibu taking on five rivals, three of them last-out winners, in race 3; and a competitive turf route for fillies and mares (race 5) in which Prianca, a stakes winner in Italy, makes her United States debut against several with sharp form, including Viva La Flag and Sway.

Three other turf races that drew large fields are sprinkled throughout the program.

Seven older males entered the Fit to Fight, headed by the Winning Move Stable entry of Malibu Moonshine and Successful Affair, a pair of 6-year-olds with 19 wins between them.

Malibu Moonshine upset the Stymie at nearly 15-1 two starts back, and would figure to get a suitably fast tempo, due to the presence of early speed rivals Delosvientos and Tergesti, but will likely await a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer at Pimlico on Friday. Successful Affair returns to dirt after finishing sixth of seven on Keeneland's Polytrack in the Fort Harrod.

"I think we'll be well represented with Successful Affair," said Contessa. "We took a chance on the Polytrack. We had to go 2,000 miles to find out whether he liked it, and obviously he didn't like it."

Evening Attire, who counts the 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup as his lone win from 17 starts at Belmont, answers the bell for the 67th time.

Venturing beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time are No Reply, a booming allowance winner with blinkers off at Aqueduct last month for Kiaran McLaughlin, and Arcata, a Fair Hill-based colt who is 3 for 3 this year for Graham Motion, including a minor stakes.

* In race 6, Vitruvius, a half-brother to Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Corinthian, makes his first start as a 4-year-old for Jimmy Jerkens. He drew post 6 in a field of nine going seven furlongs.

Vitruvius showed flashes of brilliance last year, but was scratched on the eve of the Peter Pan due to a skin disease. Shortly after the Jerome last fall, he underwent surgery to remove ankle chips.

"He had a nice workout over the track in company with Senorita Swinger, and he hasn't missed a beat," said Jerkens, who won with four of his first nine starters at the meet. "There's not much to him, he's light-framed and a little on the nervous side."

Merchant Marine, trained by Allen Jerkens and a winner of both his starts at Belmont last fall, may vie for favoritism with Vitruvius.

* New York's first baby race of 2008 drew a field of six. It may come down to the Todd Pletcher-trained Iberian Gate and McLaughlin's horse Dream Play, who fetched $340,000 and $325,000, respectively, at high-end sales in February.

"You never know what you'll run into in these races," said Contessa, who entered the New York-bred Dorothy's Essence. "She ran a sneaky-decent race at Keeneland, and she has trained great since I got her."