12/30/2009 12:00AM

Nite Light looks best for Pletcher

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A full field of 12 entered Thursday's 71st running of the 1 5/8-mile Gallant Fox at Aqueduct, headed by Nite Light, the 2007 winner, and Lord Kipling, last year's runner-up.

Nite Light, who splashed to a 10-length romp in the mud when last on the inner track two Decembers ago, is the strongest contender among a trio from Todd Pletcher, who also entered Atoned, an earner of $500,000, and the lightly raced but long-winded Tiger's Rock. Tiger's Rock tries to become the first 3-year-old to win it since 1994.

Nite Light was nosed in the Grade 2 Brooklyn over a sloppy track in his last start on the circuit back in June. He looks to rebound from a pace-pressing fade in the Breeders' Cup Marathon on Pro-Ride.

"He certainly didn't seem to fire, and never seemed like he was traveling that well," said Pletcher, who is on a 10-for-21 roll on the inner track. "Hopefully, he can regain his winter form."

Atoned was 35 cents on the dollar in a main-track marathon last month, but was outfinished by the mare Borrowing Base, who is also in this field.

"I thought he was a little bit rank the other day - he never really settled the way you'd want one to settle at a mile and three-quarters," said Pletcher.

Tiger's Rock, who has run only five times, improved markedly to win long-distance maiden and first-level allowance routes on turf and Polytrack in Kentucky. He has worked in tandem with Nite Light since arriving in New York.

"He appears as though he wants to run this far and he's always trained okay on dirt," Pletcher said. "We wanted to put him in position to have these options in marathon races."

Lord Kipling has racked up four front-running dirt victories this year, beginning with a seven-length score at this distance on the inner track, and figures to set an honest pace under renowned front-end rider Chuck Lopez.

"The plan is to go to the front and hopefully never look back," said Scott Lake, who claimed Lord Kipling out of a win in a two-miler at Saratoga. "If he makes the lead, especially in these marathon races, he's very, very tough."

Other contenders include Reflect Times and Malibu Moonshine.