11/28/2003 12:00AM

Montauk points to Bond duo


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A particularly strong edition of the $75,000 Montauk Handicap is on tap at Aqueduct on Sunday.

The major players in the nine-horse field of New York-bred fillies and mares are the 2002 winner, Along Came Mary, and runner-up, Princess Dixie, who are stablemates. The biggest threat to Along Came Mary and Princess Dixie, who are not coupled in the wagering, is Message Red, who should be hitting peak form in her third start following a layoff.

The field also includes stakes winners Marc's Rainbow, Golden Damsel, and Flag Pin.

In March, the last time Message Red ran at Aqueduct, she won an open allowance race by 8 3/4 lengths at the Montauk's 1 1/8-mile distance and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 92.

Message Red, a 4-year-old, followed that win with another in the Yanks Music, an overnight stakes at Belmont Park on May 7. Shortly after winning the Yanks Music, Message Red underwent surgery to remove ankle chips and was sidelined until Oct. 25, when she returned in the Grade 2 First Flight and finished fifth. In her last race, Message Red finished second, beaten a half-length by Artist Johanna, in a mile allowance race here on Nov. 15. Message Red had a short lead in the stretch, but was outrun by Artist Johanna.

"She hung a little last time but she made a big, wide move," said Jimmy Jerkens, Message Red's trainer. "She carried a lot of weight [120 pounds] and that was a good filly that beat her."

Message Red, who will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, carries 121 pounds. She drew post 8.

Jim Bond trains Along Came Mary and Princess Dixie, who are familiar rivals with combined earnings of $797,933. Bond said that in terms of talent, not much separates Along Came Mary, who is owned by Jerry Nielsen, and Princess Dixie, who is owned by Jim Edwards.

Mike Luzzi rides Princess Dixie, who is coming off a win in the Iroquois Stakes and carries 122 pounds as the highweight. Along Came Mary totes 118 pounds, including Norberto Arroyo Jr., who rode her to victory in last year's Montauk.

Marc's Rainbow, the likely pacesetter, is coming off back-to-back losses in turf races. She is probably a better horse on the dirt, especially if the track is wet.

Queen's Triomphe, Board Elligible, and Alleged Whisper complete the field.