04/15/2008 12:00AM

Irish Majesty spotted to win


Four of the seven horses in Thursday's featured eighth race at Aqueduct have some connection to Gary Contessa.

Contessa, by far the leading trainer this year in New York with 72 victories, will saddle the coupled entry of Irish Majesty and Kings Challenge in the 1 1/8-mile starter handicap, restricted to horses that have run for a claiming tag of $25,000 or less since 2006.

To add to the intrigue, two other runners, Jacks Express and Hurrah, make what amounts to their first start for the high-percentage Dutrow brothers after being claimed away from Contessa.

Based on the classy company he has been keeping, his 3-for-9 record in nine-furlong races, and previous success in the starter handicap ranks, Irish Majesty appears formidable. A 5-year-old gelding who became eligible for this condition when he raced for a $20,000 tag in February 2007 at Gulfstream Park, Irish Majesty was good enough to finish second against $75,000 optional claimers two starts ago.

Last time out, he failed to fire, but was far off the pace on a day dominated by inside speed horses.

Irish Majesty's stablemate, Kings Challenge, will be making his first start since Contessa claimed him for $35,000 on April 2. Notably, Contessa is 9 for his last 24 (38 percent) with a $3.57 return on investment with claimed horses that he brings back within 15 days.

The opposition can take some comfort in the fact Contessa has cooled off lately. Last week, he was just 3 for 33 and his horses are only 6 for 58 since racing shifted to Aqueduct's main track.

Of the two horses taken from Contessa in Thursday's field, Hurrah is the harder to gauge. Claimed by Tony Dutrow for $50,000 in early February, Hurrah was eased shortly after the start of a sprint over a sloppy track on March 19, a non-effort that must be discounted. He fits well in this spot after finishing no worse than third in his six previous starts, all routes against second- and third-level allowance-caliber stock.

Jacks Express makes his first start for Richard Dutrow Jr. after being taken for $25,000 out of an optional claimer restricted to New York-breds. He rallied against an inside speed bias last time out and benefited from a similar bias when he wired five statebred rivals going a mile two starts ago.

Angelic Aura, 8, won a similar starter handicap last September, but comes back on short rest.