07/09/2007 12:00AM

Contessa gets real with Just Starting


Trainer Gary Contessa took an ambitious swing with Just Starting in her first race following a claim.

Contessa put the 5-year-old on the turf for the first time in her 23-race career in the Evil Bear overnight stakes last month at Belmont Park. Just Starting trailed by a long distance in the five-horse field.

"We ran her over her head," Contessa said. "We tried something new with her. When I claim a horse, I know I can go for the bird in a hand, but I'm the kind of guy who likes to go for the two in a bush."

Just Starting's second race for Contessa off the $50,000 claim on June 14 could be the in-hand spot: a $59,000 allowance and optional claimer for fillies and mares on Wednesday at Belmont Park.

Just Starting enters the third-level allowance via the $75,000 claiming option.

"She's a difficult mare to place," Contessa said. "There are not a slew of $50,000 to $60,000 claimers around any more. This spot is about where she belongs. Just Starting brings a lot speed to the table. She's a nice horse."

Eibar Coa reunites with the mare for the first time since guiding her to victory in December at Aqueduct.

The key to success for her could be the return to six furlongs on the main track, the distance and surface over which she has nine of her 11 career wins. In her last six-furlong dirt sprint at Belmont on May 18, Just Starting set the pace in a two-length victory that earned her a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

The main competition appears to be Pennyrile, a former member of the Contessa barn now racing for Anthony Dutrow. The 5-year-old made an impressive return on Juneo11 in the slop at Delaware Park, drawing off to a 3 1/4-length victory with a career-best 89 Beyer. She should be comfortable back at Belmont, considering her record of 1-1-2 in 4 career starts there.

Cornelio Velasquez will ride.

The globe-trotting Aliysa is the unknown factor, making her U.S. debut for trainer Todd Pletcher with John Velazquez aboard. She will race on Lasix for the first time.

A 4-year-old, she started in her native Brazil with three wins in her first four races, including two Groupo3 stakes victories. She wintered in Dubai, with a third and a 10th in two starts there earlier this year.

Aliysa has been prepping smartly with Pletcher's Saratoga division, turning in bullet workouts in her last two drills.