04/03/2003 1:00AM

Give Vesta second look


As a 3-year-old last season, Vesta was good enough to win two sprint stakes races at Pimlico, including the Grade 3 Miss Preakness in May, in which she earned a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

Less than two months later, however, Vesta's season was cut short when she was found to have knee chips following her fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Prioress in New York.

After an eight-month recuperation, Vesta resurfaced in early March and finished second in the six-furlong Safely Kept at Aqueduct. But at first glance, it's puzzling why she was unable to hold the lead after a sluggish half-mile in 47 seconds, far slower than the sub-45-second fraction she set in the Miss Preakness.

Bettors will have to decide whether Vesta will move forward in the second start of her comeback in Saturday's $75,000, six-furlong Primonetta Stakes at Pimlico or if she is a vulnerable favorite.

A closer look at Vesta's last race indicates she might have been victimized by a track bias. The inner track at Aqueduct on March 9 played distinctly slower than par. The drying-out surface was also very tiring and tended to favor closers.

Given that information, Vesta deserves to be upgraded for her performance and should be even tougher in the Primonetta.

Vesta's stiffest competition could come from Balmy, a New York shipper who has won both her starts this year, and Hunka Hunka Lori Z, a 5-year-old mare who usually prefers more distance but cut back to 5 1/2 furlongs in her most recent race and just missed despite a poor start.

for Pimlico entries.

:: Subscribers: to purchase past performances for Pimlico.

:: Non-subscribers: to purchase past performances for Pimlico.