02/24/2009 1:00AM

Familiar faces fill optional claimer


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Handicappers know the principals in Thursday's eighth race like the back of their hand. Even so, several of the eight veterans in the $48,000 optional claimer have shown a knack for surprises in winters past. Consider that:

* Like Now's three wins on the inner track include the 2006 Gotham at 36-1.

* Sigh You, part of a Fox Ridge Farm-owned entry along with Yield Bogey, scored a 21-1 upset last winter for trainer Pat Kelly.

* Rises the Phoenix won maiden and first-level conditions here in 2005, and won back-to-back starts at 12-1 and 10-1 here last winter. He makes his first start at age 8 for trainer Dan Conway Jr., who has five wins at the current meet at average odds just under 9-1.

* A year ago, nearly to the day, Malibu Moonshine ran the race of his life to win the 2008 Stymie Handicap at 14-1 for Gary Contessa.

* Two years ago, Take the Bluff posted a front-running upset over Jazil, who had won the Belmont Stakes the previous summer. Now 7, Take the Bluff is still good enough to rate favoritism in this spot.

"He's a hard knocker who's beaten some nice horses along the way, and this is probably his right level," said trainer Rick Violette Jr.

Also entered in the one-mile feature were Irish Majesty, a last-out winner over Malibu Moonshine in a straight $30,000 claimer for David Duggan; and Numaany, a Darley Stable colt trained by Tom Albertrani, who can contend on his best effort.

Violette also sends out Joaquin Memphis in race 5, arguably the toughest $14,000 claiming route of the meet; and Urban Flight in race 7, a competitive New York-bred allowance sprint.

Joaquin Memphis was reclaimed by Violette from a nose win last out. Of the gelding's five career wins on the inner track, four have come in photo finishes by margins of a neck or less.

"He only does what he has to," said Violette, "and this came up as a pretty salty race for $14,000."

All nine entrants are six-figure earners, including Three in the Bag and Tiger D.R., a pair of 10-time winners.

Urban Flight has been stuck in the first-level condition for a year but is the one to beat in a $43,000 allowance based on a big-figure placing last out.

El Tamberito, a decisive maiden winner when returned from a layoff by Tony Dutrow recently, looms the main threat.