03/31/2005 1:00AM

Offlee Wild gets a rematch


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though hadn't been out in eight months and was conceding six pounds to Coast Line, his trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., doesn't feel Offlee Wild had any excuses when he came up a neck short to that rival in last month's John Campbell Handicap at Laurel Park.

Well, maybe one.

"Offlee Wild's game is not stalking another horse," said Dutrow, recalling that Offlee Wild chased Coast Line through soft early fractions. "He likes to lay a couple of lengths off it and have them battle it up front, that's his game. Hopefully, it works out like that next time."

The next time is Saturday, when Coast Line and Offlee Wild head a seven-horse field entered in the $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct. Dutrow should be heartened by the fact that there is plenty of speed in the Grade 3 race, run at nine furlongs. And Dutrow believes Offlee Wild is as good as - if not better than - when he upset Funny Cide in last year's Massachusetts Handicap.

But, Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Coast Line, isn't convinced his horse has to be in front to be effective. Coast Line has won five consecutive races since coming back from myriad injuries. Last Dec. 16, Coast Line bobbled at the break and sat fourth for three furlongs before winning an allowance race over the inner track.

"I think he's rateable," Pletcher said. "I think he's got enough natural speed where he found himself on the lead in all those races. If someone else wants the lead, we'd rather sit off somebody else."

Coast Line was away from the races for 13 1/2 months, from the time he finished fourth in his debut at Saratoga till he won a maiden claiming race last Oct. 14. He was hampered by injuries to a hind ankle and a front leg. But Pletcher believes the biggest reason for Coast Line's success was a myectomy, a throat surgery that enabled him to breathe better.

"That was the turning point into what made him a better horse," Pletcher said.

Presidentialaffair, who won the 2003 Stuyvesant Handicap over this track, makes his first start since winning the Maryland Million Classic at Pimlico last October. He and Rogue Agent figure to be on the lead.

Country Be Gold took advantage of a hot early pace to win the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap in January, but was compromised by a slow pace when fourth in the Stymie last out. Cuba and Diligent Gambler complete the field.