03/15/2010 11:00PM

Contessa, Pletcher in tight battle

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With nine racing days left before the scheduled switch to Aqueduct's main track in two weeks, Gary Contessa holds a 34-32 lead on Todd Pletcher in quest of his fifth consecutive inner-track training title, and eighth overall since 1999-2000.

Contessa entered seven horses on Wednesday's St. Patrick's Day program, including morning-line favorites Dixie Nite Out (2-1) in race 3, Purrfect Bluff (5-2) in race 5, and Vinnie Van Go (2-1) in race 6.

Dixie Nite Out won maiden and allowance races against New York-breds with blinkers added in February. He drew the rail in an open $42,000 starter allowance, and faces five other 3-year-olds, including Propellor Jones, a Pletcher-trained colt by Smarty Jones who looms the one to catch stretching out from six furlongs to a mile and 70 yards.

Contessa and Pletcher square off again in race 5, a $42,000 first-level allowance sprint for older fillies and mares.

Purrfect Bluff comes off a photo-finish defeat at the same level against Kissa Melissa, who won on the rise last week. Team Pletcher counters with French Dip, a Florida shipper who makes her first local start. Though she has lost in this condition 10 times since a debut win last winter, a reprise of her seasonal bow at Gulfstream, in which she led the promising Qualia to the final strides, makes her a big threat.

Vinnie Van Go has won just 1 of 17 starts, but is the one to beat in a $25,000 restricted claimer for New York-breds. He faced Kings Point-bound Mighty Morris and stakes-placed Dahlgren Chapel in his last two starts.

In a competitive heat, other contenders include last-out winners Rock Hall Honey, Tempest Storm, and Credit Limit, who also like to mix it up early.

Vinnie Van Go has won just 1 of 17 starts, but is the one to beat in a $25,000 restricted claimer for New York-breds, after facing Kings Point-bound Mighty Morris and stakes-placed Dahlgren Chapel in his last two starts.

In race 8, a second-level $25,000 optional claimer, Out of Respect, a promising Bruce Levine-trained 3-year-old, is the 6-5 choice against eight older rivals.

Out of Respect was purchased after a debut win at Calder last fall, and ran second in the Great White Way division of the New York Stallion three weeks later. He wired a first-level allowance in his only start at the meet, earning a 92 Beyer Figure.

The Truffle Man and Gold Vendetta, an entry from David Jacobson, are the 5-2 second choice. Monte Carlo and Al's Lark are also contenders.