01/09/2008 1:00AM

Einstein's comebacker comes up tough

Louis Hodges Jr.
Einstein will make his first start since May in a stakes-caliber allowance field on Friday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainers Shug McGaughey and Helen Pitts had similar reactions when they picked up the overnight for Friday's $59,500 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park, which drew a graded-stakes-caliber field of 12 to go a mile on the turf.

"When I picked out this spot I thought I'd be the nuts in here," said McGaughey, who sends out the multiple graded-stakes-placed Minister's Joy.

"I was worried about whether the race would fill," said Pitts, who is bringing back Grade 1 winner Einstein from an eight-month layoff. "I should have been worried about who else was going in there."

Along with Minister's Joy and Einstein, Friday's feature also drew trainer Saeed bin Suroor's Group 1 winner Palace Episode, as well as the multiple graded-stakes winner Hotstufanthensome, who, like Einstein, has been away since May.

The late-striding Minister's Joy closed out his 2007 campaign finishing a wide-running third in Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap. He was beaten a nose earlier in the year in Keeneland's Grade 3 Ben Ali Handicap.

"He lost a lot of ground and only got beat a length in his last start," said McGaughey. "He wants to get so far back and you hate to get him stopped when he makes his run, so that's what happens. He's the kind of horse who would have won a lot more races if he had some better trips."

Minister's Joy's only win in 2007 came over the Gulfstream turf in a high-priced optional claiming and allowance race.

Einstein has not started since losing his rider in the accident-marred Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico on May 19. Einstein, winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2006, finished fourth following an eventful trip when returning from a similar layoff here last winter.

"He was in tons of trouble and probably should have won his first start last year," said Pitts. "This is the right spot to bring him back timing- and distance-wise. He's working well and should be fit enough to go a mile right off the bat."

Palace Episode has returned to the East Coast after finishing sixth in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 Citation Handicap in November. A Group 1 winner in Europe at 2, Palace Episode finished third behind Trippi's Storm and After Market in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont on Sept. 29.

Hotstufanthensome, idle since finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 26, started just four times in 2007, winning once and finishing second here in the Grade 3 Pan American Handicap.