02/07/2006 12:00AM

Loads of speed to set up Knox

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Two-turn races on Aqueduct's inner track are sometimes won by horses who can get an easy lead, but Thursday's featured eighth race, a $50,000 allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles, doesn't look like a waltz on the front end for anyone.

Nine older males entered, including the Gary Contessa-trained entry of Knox and American Quest, in a spot where the early fractions figure to be hotly contested. The horses breaking from the three inside posts - Jungle Fighter, With Probability, and Coined for Success - all had the early lead in each of their last three starts. Whichever one reaches the front will run full throttle from the opening bell.

comes off a front-running victory against softer opposition, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 96, but he drew post 7. Were American Quest to stay in the race, it would be akin to pouring gasoline on a fire, but Contessa indicated American Quest will be scratched.

"He runs great numbers, but he runs them when he's clear on the lead," said Contessa, who has 38 winners and a huge lead in the standings. "The race looks like it sets up for Knox."

, whose form through much of 2005 could charitably be termed lackluster, was claimed for $45,000 out of a listless effort on yielding turf in late November. Switched to dirt with blinkers on 12 days later, Knox ran a vastly improved race on the inner track and finished third behind Happy Hunting. Three weeks later he crushed a field similar to the one he meets Thursday, and that prompted Contessa to try Knox against Happy Hunting again in the Aqueduct Handicap, where he came up empty and finished sixth.

"If I had to find an excuse for him, maybe he was a little too close to the pace," Contessa said. "Maybe I'm wrong and he's not an Aqueduct Handicap kind of horse; maybe he's just a good $75,000 claimer. We're going to find out."

Also entered for the $75,000 claiming price are , an 11-time winner who was a wide third behind Knox in his only start at the meet; and Angelic Aura, a last-out claim by Dominick Schettino who lends additional speed to the mix from the outside post.

Ghost Mountain and Criminal Mind round out the field.

* Contessa noted that Magnolia Jackson, winner of last Saturday's Correction Handicap, is likely to start next in the Broadway Handicap on March 12. "She relishes having her races a month or so apart," he said.