04/24/2008 11:00PM

Maragh is riding so well he'll stay in New York

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Had things gone according to plan this winter and spring, Rajiv Maragh would be looking forward to the start of the Monmouth Park meet on May 9. But since things went better than planned, Maragh is now looking forward to Wednesday's opening of the Belmont Park season.

Maragh, a native of Jamaica who grew up in south Florida, did so well riding at Aqueduct full time for the first time that he now plans to make New York his permanent home.

Maragh, 22, finished third at Aqueduct's winter meet with 69 wins and has followed that up with 16 wins - good enough for second in the rider standings - since the main track opened on April 2. In the last month, Maragh gained his biggest career victories, capturing the Gradeo1 Ashland at Keeneland for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and a pair of Grade 2 races at Aqueduct for Gary Contessa.

It is Contessa and his primary owner, Steve Sigler's Winning Move Stable, who have been so impressed by Maragh that they plan to use him as much as possible at Belmont.

"It's not first call, but as close as you can get without being first call," said Contessa, who is New York's leading trainer. "I love the way he rides. I think he's a good fit for New York. He's aggressive when he needs to be, he's patient when he needs to be. If we didn't offer him this opportunity, he'd still do just fine."

Before this year, Maragh wintered in south Florida where his father, Colin, is based. Colin was a jockey in Jamaica before he moved the family to Florida in 2000. Rajiv Maragh began riding at Calder in late 2003 and won his first race at Tampa Bay Downs in February 2004.

Maragh spent the bulk of last year in New Jersey where he finished fifth in the standings at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands.

Maragh decided to spend the winter in New York because of Aqueduct's big purses and the chance to make some inroads with trainers who do well at Monmouth in the summer.

"That was my main goal," Maragh said Friday during training hours at Belmont. "I think I surpassed my expectations by winning a lot more races than I expected for a lot of the top outfits."

Since coming to New York, Maragh has won 23 races for Bruce Levine, 11 for Contessa, and seven for McLaughlin.

Maragh said he hadn't previously wintered in New York because he wasn't sure if he could handle the cold weather.

"I decided it would be a lot better for my future to suck it up for a year and see what would happen," said Maragh, who is represented by agent Roger Sutton. "For me it wasn't as bad as people made it seem. I handled it pretty well."

On March 22, Maragh won his first Grade 2 when he guided Rite Moment to victory in the Distaff Handicap over the inner track. Two weeks later, he was aboard Little Belle, who won the Ashland at 15-1 and whom Maragh will ride in Friday's Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. As Little Belle was Maragh's first mount at Keeneland, she will also be his first mount at Churchill Downs.

Maragh said he is looking forward to Belmont and the chance to compete daily with the likes of Edgar Prado, Garrett Gomez, Kent Desormeaux, and John Velazquez.

"People give you more respect when you win races with those guys," Maragh said. "I've had what I think has been fair success against them. If you have the right horse you can compete with those guys."

Altesse wins Sweetzie by a head

Maragh, Contessa, and Winning Move came out on the wrong side of a tight finish when Runway Rosie was beaten a head by Altesse in Friday's $64,950 Sweetzie Stakes at Aqueduct.

Runway Rosie, under Maragh, ran six furlongs in 1:14.46 before being confronted by Altesse at the three-eighths pole. The two fillies were head-to-head through the entire stretch before Altesse, under Ramon Dominguez, prevailed. Altesse, a daughter of A.P. Indy trained by Shug McGaughey and owned by Helen Alexander, Helen Groves, and Dorothy Matz, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.43 and returned $5.50 to win.

Despite the loss, Contessa was actually quite pleased with how Maragh rode Runway Rosie.

"She doesn't want to be on the lead going a mile and an eighth, but if he didn't do that we might not have even been second,'' Contessa said.

Rite Moment may run in Phipps

Rite Moment, whom Maragh rode to victory in last weekend's Grade 2 Bed o' Roses, could make her next start in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on June 14. If she can wait that long.

Contessa said there is a small chance that Rite Moment could run in the Grade 2 Shuvee on May 17, but he'd prefer to give the filly more time. She has already raced six times this year.

"I'm not going to say no," Contessa said about the Shuvee. "If I can't hold her on the ground, then maybe we'll look at it. Right now the trainer is thinking Ogden Phipps, the horse might be thinking Shuvee."

Pays to Dream ends up in Fort Marcy

Several weeks ago, trainer David Donk targeted the Fort Marcy Handicap for Pays to Dream. But when a second-level allowance race filled on Wednesday, Donk thought that might be the way to go.

Then, after receiving a Lasix shot for the race on Wednesday, Pays to Dream developed colic-like symptoms which forced Donk to scratch him. But almost as soon he got sick, Pays to Dream got better and now will run in Sunday's Fort Marcy.

"He was just uncomfortable, not 100 percent," Donk said. "He was fine by the time we shipped him back to Belmont. [The Fort Marcy] was my original plan four weeks ago, then I got smart with the two-other-than.''

The Fort Marcy will be the first start for Pays to Dream since he stumbled and unseated his rider at the start of last October's Rutgers Stakes. Prior to that, he was third in a pair of graded stakes.