04/04/2006 12:00AM

'Grocer' gets third shot at nemesis


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Gold and Roses and Galloping Grocer, who squared off twice in restricted stakes last year, meet for the first time as 4-year-olds in Thursday's $60,000 Smart Coupon Stakes.

A one-mile overnight stakes for older New York-breds, the Smart Coupon goes as race 8. It drew a field of six that includes the Gary Contessa-trained entry of Melodeeman and Step It Up, as well as Interior Designer and the speedy Rogue Agent.

had a huge season at age 3, winning four races and nearly $400,000, including two victories in the rich New York Stallion Series at the expense of Galloping Grocer, the beaten favorite on both occasions.

Gold and Roses has had a freshening of nearly seven weeks and returns at an optimal distance. He is 3 for 3 at a mile, including both starts on Aqueduct's main track last spring. Gold and Roses had outside posts for those wins out of the chute, however, and drew the rail Thursday. Moreover, he can be a bit headstrong in the early going and gets a jockey switch to Norberto Arroyo Jr., because regular rider Eibar Coa is serving the final day of a three-day suspension incurred for careless riding on March 25.

was beset by a variety of ailments last year and has never gotten back to the form he showed as a precocious 2-year-old, but Thursday's conditions suit him well. His first start at 4 was a game win against open second-level allowance types, which he exited with a small cut on his right front foot. Three progressively longer workouts since then indicate the cut is not a major issue, and he has enough natural speed to be right in the thick of things with Gold and Roses and Rogue Agent down the backstretch.

was purchased privately last month, and in his first start for Contessa was far behind in the early stages of a six-furlong allowance. That was by design.

"I watched a lot of his races, and I like him as a powerful closer," Contessa said. "He's been a powerful closer and an up-close speed type. I would like to see him become a horse that can go a mile, so that is my game plan: sit on him and cut him loose at the top of the stretch."

That strategy could play well in this field, provided Melodeeman handles the stretch-out from six furlongs.