04/20/2007 12:00AM

Mighty Eros tough off dazzling debut


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - If horses are judged by the company they keep then Mighty Eros figures to be highly regarded by bettors seeking to find the winner of Sunday's $100,000 Park Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct.

Mighty Eros, a 3-year-old daughter of Freud, won her debut last month by 11 1/4 lengths, running six furlongs in 1:11.92 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 81. The second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers from that race each won her next start.

In her debut, Mighty Eros bobbled at the start, quickly recovered, and stalked the speedy Automatic Appeal for three furlongs before taking over at the five-sixteenths pole. Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. hit her once left-handed and twice right-handed as she romped to victory.

Tom Bush, the trainer of Mighty Eros, said he wasn't surprised that his filly won so convincingly first time out.

"This is one hell of a nice filly," Bush said. "She broke fairly sharply and it wasn't long before she was on the lead. She's a very, very big filly and it's surprising she showed the speed that she did."

Among the horses she'll have to beat are Laurentide Ice and Margies Smile. Laurentide Ice won the Fifth Avenue Division of the Stallion Stakes over Aqueduct's main track last November before ending her 2-year-old season with a narrow loss in the East View Stakes.

Laurentide Ice finished third in her return in what was a bit of a crazy race. Jockey Eibar Coa was forced to steady Laurentide Ice early when a horse ridden by jockey Eddie Martin Jr. came over on her. Coa, seeking revenge on Martin, used Laurentide Ice to put Martin in tight entering the far turn. Both jockeys received 10-day suspensions for their actions.

"I was trying to get a race into her and the last thing she needed was to be used to settle a score," said Mark Hennig, the trainer of Laurentide Ice. "She ran well in spite of the rodeo ride. She was trying to finish and she should move forward."

Ramon Dominguez will ride Laurentide Ice on Sunday.

Another contender is Margies Smile, who is 3 for 3 sprinting against New York-breds. Her lone loss came in the Busher, an open-company stakes in which she finished last after stumbling badly at the break.

Nader gone; Marino nears retirement

It is not a stretch to suggest that Bill Nader and Cathy Marino have been the heart and soul of the New York Racing Association for a long time.

On Friday, Nader worked his final day as chief executive officer for the NYRA. On Monday, he begins a new job as the executive director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which conducts racing at Happy Valley and Sha Tin racetracks.

"It's been a great run, it's been a great 13 years," Nader said. "The one thing that rings true is the NYRA I came to in '94 is the one that I leave - the commitment to excellence, the very best racing in North America."

Meanwhile, Sunday is to be Marino's last official day as vice president of customer service, though she will return to assist NYRA for three weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes as well as the Saratoga meet.

Marino, 54, is retiring after working 34 years at NYRA. Marino will move to Saratoga, where she recently purchased a condominium.

"I love it up there and I am lucky enough to be eligible for my pension," Marino said. "I just felt like I needed a change in my life. I was at a point where I think I'm going to start the second half of my life - so hopefully I live to be 108. I could not have asked for a better job. NYRA has been so good to me, but I feel it's the right time for me to move on."

Win photo a first for Lo Duca

Paul Lo Duca, the catcher for the first-place New York Mets, estimates he has won about a dozen races as a horse owner. But Friday was the first time he ever saw one of his horses win in person.

Lo Duca was at Aqueduct on Friday to watch Guts Game ($4.70) lead gate to wire under Eibar Coa in a first-level allowance race for New York-bred fillies. Lo Duca is part of Little Red Feather Racing, a syndicate that includes New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, rapper Jay-Z, and ESPN broadcaster Kenny Mayne among its members. Mayne and his family were also at Aqueduct Friday.

"I've won about 12 or 13 races in my life; this is the first one I've ever seen live," Lo Duca said in the winner's circle. "She's a nice filly and I really feel she can be a stakes-winning filly."

Lo Duca, Mayne, and several other members of Little Red Feather had to sweat out an inquiry into the race. Island Reversal, under Eddie Martin Jr., appeared to run up on the heels of Guts Game entering the turn and had to steady sharply. The stewards saw no reason to change the order of finish.

Guts Game, a 3-year-old daughter of Officer trained by David Duggan, now has 2 wins and 3 seconds from 5 career starts. Guts Game will be pointed to the $100,000 Bouwerie Stakes on May 6 at Belmont.