12/26/2006 1:00AM

Contessa duo in hunt early, late


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – One of the better 3-year-old fillies on this circuit last winter, Daytime Promise has not yet regained her best form since returning from injury last month.

Trainer Gary Contessa will give her a little help on Thursday, when he runs both Daytime Promise and Lunar Rendezvous as a coupled entry in a second-level allowance race at Aqueduct. The mile and 70-yard race also has an optional claiming provision of $35,000 but none of the nine horses entered is eligible to be claimed.

Daytime Promise won the Busanda Stakes over this course in January, but was beaten as the odds-on favorite in both the Busher and Wayard Lass stakes. After finishing last in an overnight stakes at Belmont in May, Daytime Promise injured a splint bone. Contessa had her ready to run in late summer when she popped another splint bone. Daytime Promise didn’t make it back to the races until November, when she finished third in an overnight stakes in the slop at Aqueduct. Most recently, she finished fifth of six in the Flat Fleet Feet Stakes.

“She is at her best when she’s a one-run closer,” Contessa said. “She has not had a good pace scenario in either of her starts since coming back.”

Lunar Rendezvous finished second in her two starts since Contessa claimed her for $50,000 in October. Going two turns, she figures to part of the early pace on Thursday.

“I think they augment each other,” Contessa said. “If there’s no other speed, Lunar Rendezvous could be hard to beat. If there is pace, then it’s going to set up for Daytime Promise.”

Since her last start, Daytime Promise has fired two bullet works over the inner track.

Clearly Ideal, a loose-on-the-lead winner going 1 1/8 miles last out, and The Holy One, a front-running winner in a two-turn mile race at Delaware Park two starts back, might well occupy Lunar Rendezvous on the front end.

Richard Dutrow Jr. will send out the entry of Strelladar and A Bit of Pressure. Though she has not raced beyond seven furlongs, Strelladar is bred to stretch out. Dutrow claimed A Bit of Pressure from Contessa in October, but has been unable to get her in a race since, despite entering her several times.

Chili Cat and Shady Lane are closers who would benefit from a strong pace and their inside post positions.