08/30/2008 12:00AM

Contessa blankets the region


Labor Day will be a busy one for trainer Gary Contessa, with horses running at Saratoga, Monmouth Park, Philadelphia Park, and Finger Lakes.

"On Tuesday, everyone will get a day off and a chance to catch their breaths," Contessa said.

Contessa will send two horses to Finger Lakes for a pair of 2-year-old stakes for New York-breds at six furlongs: the $145,213 Aspirant for either sex and the $155,612 Lady Finger for fillies.

In the Aspirant, Contessa unveils Big Gavel, a colt who has been training at Saratoga. The final prep for his debut was a sharp three furlongs in 36.12 on Friday.

Distance could be an issue for Big Gavel, who will be ridden by John Grabowski. Contessa believes the colt is best suited for a mile to 1 1/8 miles.

"He's a very pleasant colt to train," Contessa said. "I think he'll be interesting down the road with his big stride. I don't know how well he'll handle the three-quarters of a mile, but we'll take a shot.

"His best chance would be to try and close, especially if the race falls apart in front of him."

Dagnabit will likely be employing similar tactics. The colt, unbeaten in two starts for trainer Rick Dutrow, has the outside post 8.

He rallied for both wins, most recently taking the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park against open company.

Linda Rice will try to divide and conquer both stakes with a pair of fillies. She sends out Saturdaynitesandy against the colts in the Aspirant and Mother Russia against the fillies in the Lady Finger.

Mother Russia will be one to beat following an impressive debut win at Saratoga, earning an 80 Beyer Speed Figure.

Mike Luzzi will ride both Rice fillies.

Contessa sends out the speedy Hookin the Goods, a pacesetting winner last time out at Belmont who will also have Grabowski up.

"She's fast," Contessa said. "She needs no introduction. Unless something happens, I expect her to be on the lead and it will be come and catch me."

Contessa had been looking for a spot since Hookin the Goods's victory on July 9, but found few options.

"There were very few spots to run her," Contessa said. "One came up at Saratoga, but I scratched her to go for the bigger pot."

Owner Francis Paolangeli will be represented by an entry of Stormy's Smile and Gold for the Queen.