02/07/2005 12:00AM

Polish Rifle has found his niche


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - At this time last year, the connections of Polish Rifle were hoping they had a Kentucky Derby horse in their stable. They didn't.

What owners William Heiligbrodt and Robert McNair hope they have now is a sprinter talented enough to win some stakes. Polish Rifle will take the next step toward a possible stakes engagement Wednesday, when he runs in a third-level allowance race at Aqueduct. The six-furlong race, which drew seven runners but only five betting interests, also carries an optional claiming tag of $75,000. Four of the seven runners - though not Polish Rifle - are eligible to be claimed.

At 2, won his first three starts, including the Maryland Million Nursery by nine lengths. Trainer Anthony Dutrow sold Polish Rifle to his current connections before the Laurel Futurity, in which Polish Rifle finished second behind Tapit.

Polish Rifle ran in two Louisiana Derby preps last winter, failing to finish in the money in either spot. He was away from the races for seven months before running last in the Prairie Meadows Derby last September.

Since returning to sprint distances in October, Polish Rifle has run three solid races. He finished second to the promising Primary Suspect on Oct. 30, second to Ghost Mountain on Nov. 20 going seven furlongs, and then he won a second-level allowance race by 3 3/4 lengths over the inner track Dec. 18.

Though Polish Rifle looks like the main speed of the race, assistant trainer Toby Sheets said he believes he could rate if need be from post 4 under Stewart Elliott.

"He's in a good spot where he could sit off it if he needs to," said Sheets, who is running Steve Asmussen's New York stable this winter. "He's done well. He's had two nice little works."

could be the other speed in the race, and his presence could set things up for stablemate D.C.'s Thunder, who won his last dirt sprint from off the pace last September at Woodbine. D.C.'s Thunder makes his first start for trainer Gary Contessa and shows a pair of bullet works leading up to this.

, a 6-year-old gelding, ships in from Maryland with solid credentials. He has won 10 races, including eight at six furlongs and one in a $35,000 claiming race last February over the inner oval.

Wild Jam, trained by Ben Perkins Jr., is an off-the-pace threat. Albert E. and Gracious Humor make up a solid entry for the meet's leading trainer, Scott Lake.