03/04/2006 12:00AM

Manchurian turns the tables on Liquor Cabinet in Stymie

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Manchurian finished second to Liquor Cabinet in a second-level allowance last month, but turned the tables on that rival to win Saturday's 51st running of the $69,875 at Aqueduct by a half-length after a prolonged stretch battle.

Both older males are lightly raced considering their ages. The 6-year-old Manchurian was making just the eighth start of his career, and his fourth for Todd Pletcher since returning from a long layoff last November. Liquor Cabinet, a 5-year-old, was running for just the ninth time for Mark Hennig.

"If there was ever a time for [Manchurian] to step up, this was perfect timing on his part," said Seth Benzel, an assistant to Todd Pletcher. "He really showed some grit toward the end."

Manchurian prompted slow fractions of 24.24 seconds, 49.35, and 1:13.56 set by Chilly Rooster on the fast inner track, took over when the pacesetter weakened, and held a short lead inside Liquor Cabinet in midstretch after a mile in 1:38.76. Manchurian ($15.20) would not allow Liquor Cabinet to get by after running the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.87 under Mike Luzzi, who rode four winners on the card.

"My horse kicked in when I needed him to," said Luzzi. "I definitely think he's on the improve."

Liquor Cabinet finished nearly five lengths clear of grizzled veteran Evening Attire, the slight favorite at 6-5. Evening Attire, who broke slowly once again, outfinished Salic Law for the show spot.