12/07/2004 12:00AM

Horse-for-course angle fits 3


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Handicappers who look for horses with good past form on Aqueduct's inner track will be in a quandary as they examine Thursday's featured eighth race, an optional claimer with third-level allowance conditions that offers myriad possibilities.

The $48,000 route at 1 1/16 miles drew a field of eight fillies and mares, and three of them - Saintliness, Lady Libby, and Fond - won twice on the inner track last winter.

The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained has won all three of her lifetime starts, beginning with stalking-trip victories in maiden and entry-level allowance sprints on the inner track, but she was sidelined by a splint problem after stretching out to win an allowance route in the mud on the main track in March, and breaks from a potentially troublesome outside post (7) in her comeback race with Rafael Bejarano aboard.

"She's pretty fast away from there, and she's fresh, so she'll probably be forwardly placed," said McLaughlin. "She's just doing great now."

, a New York-bred who tops the field in earnings, began 2004 with back-to-back allowance wins on the inner track. She has been racing on turf ever since, including in-the-money finishes in the Mount Vernon and the Yaddo for trainer Steve Kappes. Freshened since a respectable fourth-place finish in the Ticonderoga on closing weekend at Belmont's fall meet, Lady Libby breaks from post 6 with Jose Espinoza.

Fond, one of two 3-year-olds in the field - along with Freeroll - raced in three stakes on the inner track last winter, and came away with front-running upset scores in the Open Mind at 16-1 and the Busher at 21-1 for trainer George Weaver. She returned from a layoff last month to set the pace in a race eventually won by her late-running entrymate Points West.

"We were pretty happy with her return race," said Weaver. "She hung in there pretty game, and she has been training well since then."

Fond breaks from post 3 with Victor Carrero, and figures to be part of a contested early pace, along with Trick Again, Tactical Plus, and Traci Girl.

Traci Girl won two seven-furlong sprints in early fall, shortly after a trainer change to Bruce Levine. She and rider Mike Luzzi will have to overcome post 8 and a probable loss of ground into the clubhouse turn.

Completing this highly competitive field is Fidget, a versatile mare entered for the optional $65,000 claiming price. Fidget, who has been involved in three straight photo finishes for the win on turf and dirt for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., breaks from post 2 under Shaun Bridgmohan.