06/25/2007 11:00PM

Spina seeks birthday double


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Chuck Spina turns 59 on Thursday, and he could have a lot to celebrate.

Spina sends out two solid contenders that afternoon at Monmouth Park - first-timer Yankee Empress in the fourth race and Straitfromthe-heart in the seventh.

"It could be a good birthday present for me," Spina said. "I put in a lot of years here and I love it."

Spina won his first race at Belmont Park, in 1972. Later that year he arrived at Monmouth, and he's been here ever since.

Like most of Spina's horses, both of Thursday's runners are New Jersey-breds. Spina feels good about both, but a major issue is hanging over each.

For Yankee Empress, it's the post.

She drew the rail for the $45,000 maiden special weight event for statebred 2-year-old fillies. The five-furlong race drew a field of 12.

"That is the worst possible post for a firster going five-eighths," Spina said. "I was really disappointed about that. She's got to wait until the other 11 get in there. It seems like you usually don't get off good."

On the positive side, Yankee Empress has been training sensationally. Two of her last three workouts at Monmouth were bullet drills.

"She's been working really well," Spina said. "I'm really happy with her. She should run well. She's been training great, and the works are there for everyone to see. She doesn't have a lot of breeding, but she has done everything professionally."

Yankee Empress is by My Prince Charming out of Quiet Empress, a Quiet American mare.

Meanwhile, Straitfromtheheart is a 3-year-old with a record of 2-1-0 in 8 starts. He drew post 9 in the $50,000 second-level allowance race for statebreds going six furlongs.

The gelding has run well in both of his starts this year, pressing the pace and finishing second and fourth. Spina makes a jockey change to apprentice Mario Madrid. With the five-pound bug allowance, Strait-fromtheheart has the lightest impost in the race at 110 pounds.

"Eddie Castro is a great rider, but I went to the bug because he is a speed horse," Spina said. "He's going to go as far as he can go."

Another bug - a cough going around the barn - is the big concern.

"Jersey-breds never, ever scratch - but he may have to," Spina said. "There is no fever or anything. He just coughed a couple of times and it has been going through the barn. He's fifty-fifty as to whether he will run, but he definitely fits the race."