03/06/2010 1:00AM

Pletcher trio look tough in Stymie


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Understatement remains the horse to beat in Sunday's $65,000 Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct, but his competition got significantly tougher than it was when the race was originally carded a week ago. And he has his own trainer, Todd Pletcher, to thank for that.

With two other stakes failing to fill, Pletcher put Nite Light and Atoned in Sunday's Stymie, a race that was originally scheduled for Feb. 27 but postponed when snow canceled that card. Giant Chieftain, trained by Bruce Brown, is another newcomer to the Stymie, which now goes with eight.

Understatement is 3 for 3 over the inner track, including a 4 1/2-length victory in the Evening Attire Stakes on Jan. 16 in which he earned a 115 Beyer Speed Figure. Jonathan Thomas, the assistant to Pletcher, said the extra week shouldn't bother Understatement, who came back to work a half-mile in 48.60 seconds Monday.

Understatement figures to be on or near the lead under David Cohen, but may need to avoid getting hooked up early with National Pride, a speed horse from the rail.

"His natural ability carries him to the lead, but he has the ability to lay off a horse if need," Thomas said.

Thomas said Nite Light was being pointed to a 1 5/8-mile stakes on Feb. 28 that wasn't used and Atoned was under consideration for a one-mile stakes scheduled for Sunday that also didn't go.

Nite Light cuts back to 1 1/8 miles after running in races at distances of 1 1/2 miles or longer in his last seven starts. Nite Light is 2 for 3 at nine furlongs.

"You can make a fair argument that the Hawthorne Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter was the best race of his life," Thomas said. "He's got tactical speed to put himself in a stalking position."

Atoned comes out of a third-place finish in the John Campbell at Laurel, a race won by Redding Colliery in front-running fashion. Atoned chased the winner and was caught for second by Indian Dance.

While Pletcher has three starters, Brown was at least happy that one of them isn't Tiger's Rock, who defeated Giant Chieftain in the Gallant Fox and Coyote Lakes.

"Before he got in those long races, he would always sit kind of close," Brown said. "Now, hopefully he'll sit back and make one run."

Reflect Times and Seniors Pride have both run races good enough to put them in the hunt.