01/23/2008 12:00AM

Evaluating layoffs key to strong card

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - You'd hardly know it's the dead of winter considering the strength of Friday's card at Aqueduct, which offers four optional claiming races.

Race 3 is a first-level sprint that drew a competitive field of 3-year-old fillies, any of whom might move on to the $75,000 Dearly Precious Stakes on Feb. 17 with a strong race.

Contenders include Armonk, second in the Grade 2 Matron last fall, and Home Crowd, who adds blinkers after running third in the Ruthless. Also in are Atash and Ocean Goddess, who were debut winners at boxcar odds at Aqueduct's fall meet and are back sprinting after catching slop at two turns.

Evaluating layoffs is essential to the other three races, each of which feature at least two returnees that can contend if ready.

In race 2, a second-level sprint for statebred fillies and mares, Sort of Tricky makes her first start since a last-place finish on Halloween at 4-5, and looms the one to catch for new trainer Tony Dutrow. She is coupled with Wishing Wishes.

Among those giving chase will be Salt Water Reign, a two-time Big A winner last winter who has been sidelined since fading in back-to-back stakes at Belmont last spring.

If neither filly fires, the logical threats include inner-track specialist What's Your Point, a tough-trip second first time off the claim by Gary Contessa; One Tough Belle, fourth in the Ruby Rubles last out; and Cool Paradigm, the winner of the Niagara Stakes at Finger Lakes last July who makes her first start in four months for trainer Jim Bond.

The layoff question is particularly vexing in the two optional claiming routes.

In race 7, a second-level mile for fillies and mares, Runway Rosie is the one to beat as she drops from 11 straight stakes, capped by a good try in the recent Affectionately Handicap. However, she may have to catch Belleplaine, a full sister to multiple graded-stakes winner Indian Vale who has been transferred to trainer Tom Albertrani for her first start since being eased in the Woodbine Oaks last June.

Other contenders include statebred mares Lauren's Tizzy, idle since the Ticonderoga on soft turf last October, and Gone Goodbye, away since May and looking for her fourth win on the inner track.

Race 8 is a tough third-level route featuring the return of Greeley's Legacy, a close fourth in the 2006 Gotham who has been on the shelf for nine months since stopping in the Ben Ali.

"He had some minor problems, nothing major, and he's trained forwardly since I got him in late fall," said his new trainer, Richard Schosberg. "I don't think the distance will be a problem, though ideally a mile would have been a better start."

In addition to Silver Prospector and Indian Hawke, the early pace may include Moon's Halo, who has been idle seven weeks, and Temporary Saint, unraced since being claimed at Keeneland last fall by Bruce Levine.

"It's kind of a tough race and he drew tough," said Levine. "He may get hung wide."