01/16/2007 1:00AM

Either Contessa ace will do


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The bad news for five horses in Thursday's eighth race is that the Gary Contessa-trained horses Lost Going Home and Star of Trieste own the best last-out Beyer Speed Figures in the field. The good news is that only one of the two will start. The race, a $46,000 first-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles, also includes Rhythmn Master, Sweetiewheatie, Tall Story, R J's Brigade, and Wing Man.

"I'm leaning toward Lost Going Home," said Contessa. "I'm only going to run one, because the exact same race comes up two or three days later."

Nothing against Star of Trieste, a lightly raced 6-year-old who earned his two best speed figures on the inner track. But the New York-bred Lost Going Home is unbeaten, has improved with every start, and is the more interesting of the two as he tackles open company and breaks from the rail.

That's the way it is with horses who win their first three starts - all against statebreds - by a combined 14 lengths, and do so with varying pace tactics at progressively longer distances. A 4-year-old gelding by City Zip, Lost Going Home was bet to 11-10 first out at six furlongs and enjoyed a rail-skimming trip to score on opening day of Aqueduct's fall meet. Stretched to a chute mile a month later, he took part in a three-way dispute for the lead and drew clear through the final stages of a first-level allowance. On Dec. 17, he overcame the outside post to win a second-level allowance under mild urging, recording a 93 Beyer, which suggests he can handle the move to open company and a stretch to 1 1/8 miles on Thursday.

"You think 'City Zip' at 1 1/8 miles and it's insane, but we also have a Successful Appeal that goes two miles," said Contessa, referring to Successful Affair, who won the Gallant Fox and Coyote Lakes in December. "Lost Going Home came to me from Mark Casse in Canada, and he has always trained like he wanted to go long. I like the 1 hole, and it looks like a great spot with a little bit of speed so he can lay just off the pace."

Rhythmn Master had a solid campaign in 2006 for John Morrison, including a win in a high-priced claimer at Belmont, in which he earned a 96 Beyer, and a second in a Maryland-bred stakes at Laurel.

Wing Man makes his first start since Dec. 3, but has posted three consecutive bullet workouts. He must overcome the outside post.