02/18/2004 12:00AM

Radar Contact finds realistic spot

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ALBANY, Calif. - One year ago, Radar Contact ran third in the Ken Maddy Sprint Handicap at Golden Gate Fields, losing by a neck to El Dorado Shooter and Giovannetti.

Friday, one day before El Dorado Shooter and Giovannetti will square off again in the Maddy, Radar Contact will meet five rivals in a $40,000 claimer at six furlongs.

"It looks like age is catching up with him," trainer Larry Ross said. "He's not firing like he used to."

Radar Contact, an 8-year-old stakes winner, was winless in eight starts last year but finished second once and third five times in stakes races while earning $78,550 to lift his career earnings to $416,553.

Radar Contact, a late-running sprinter, is always at the mercy of pace scenarios.

Twentythreejaybird has won two of his past three starts in wire-to-wire fashion and seems to have a pace advantage as he steps up here. His stablemate, Sempai, may be even quicker, but he has been sitting back a bit early in his most recent races.

Ross, of course, would like to see Twentythreejaybird and Sempai going head and head from the break, but, if they do, stalker Private Aviator or Tonco, dropping back into a sprint after a series of strong turf routes, could prove very tough getting first run.

Radar Contact, returning from a five-month layoff, didn't run a step in the Oakland Handicap and was dropped into a $50,000 claimer in his next start, running sixth behind Onebadshark and Texas Chili. But it was an improved try as he ran along the dead rail.

Ema Bovary goes south

Ross sent Ema Bovary, arguably the best runner currently stabled in northern California, to Santa Anita on Thursday for Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Las Flores Handicap at six furlongs.

"I want to get her down there a day or two in advance to go around the track and school in the paddock," Ross said.

The Las Flores will mark the Chilean-bred mare's graded stakes debut in the United States.

"It will be a tough race. Buffythecenterfold is no slouch," Ross said. "I can't believe we're spotting her weight. She's a graded competitor."

Ema Bovary was assigned 121 pounds. Buffythecenterfold, who has been second and third in her two most recent starts against Grade 1 company, gets in at 117.