04/02/2007 11:00PM

Joey P. finally set for season debut

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With his natural speed, Joey P. would have been a natural fit for Aqueduct's inner track. But trainer Ben Perkins Jr. couldn't get the multiple stakes-winning Jersey-bred sprinter back to the races in time for the inner-track season.

Thus, Joey P.'s return to the races comes Thursday in a $56,000 optional claiming race over Aqueduct's main track at six furlongs that drew five older sprinters.

After a banner 3-year-old season in which he won 5 of 8 starts, including the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup, Joey P. won his first two starts of 2006. But he faltered in his final three races, and was later diagnosed with a throat problem that required surgery following a last-place finish in the Icecapade Stakes last Sept. 4 at Monmouth.

Joey P. resumed training in January, but a spate of cold weather in February and again in mid-March prompted Perkins to back off the 5-year-old gelding.

"This last month of weather made it hard to get in a regular training routine," Perkins said. "Coming off a layoff and coming back at the money allowance level or a stakes, you have to be pretty tight. If you miss three days of training it sets you back. You need a couple of really strong weeks in a row."

Joey P. had a particularly good final week of March, working five furlongs in a bullet 59.87 seconds on March 24 before coming back with a five-furlong move in 1:01.29 on Friday.

Joey P. drew the rail for Thursday's race, and if he breaks well he will likely be the horse to catch under jockey Alan Garcia.

"He's just a big, long-striding horse," Perkins said. "He's one of those horses who always runs fast. For a horse his size, he's so agile and he covers so much ground with his stride."

Kazoo, a 9-year-old son of Tabasco Cat, is capable of putting pressure on Joey P. early, if he breaks. He broke poorly when finishing third behind Joey P. in last year's Longfellow Stakes.

Yes Yes Yes, trained by Todd Pletcher, turns back to a sprint after finishing third in a similar spot going a mile and 70 yards on Marcho14. He has run races capable of winning this.

Pavo finished third behind Attila's Storm and Wild Jam in the Grade 3 Toboggan. He won a third-level allowance two starts back. Morine's Victory faltered after a speed duel last time out at Laurel and would be better served reverting to his stalking ways.