01/17/2008 1:00AM

Stalker holds promise in Aqueduct Cap

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Horseplayers in the throes of a dry spell are fond of saying things like, "I'm going so bad right now I could stop a freight train." Judging from the performances of several recent selections that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, I have apparently developed similar metaphysical powers.

The toughest beats, eerily enough, have come in two-turn stakes on Saturdays, where a trio of seemingly home-free horses squandered clear leads in the final yards. That is something that just doesn't happen too often on Aqueduct's speed-friendly inner-dirt track. To recap:

In the Dec. 8 Queens County Handicap, pacesetter Barcola was two lengths in front with a furlong remaining, but was run down by the venerable Evening Attire, who was running in his 43rd graded stakes and got up by a stirring head.

A week later in the Ladies Handicap, Fair Hill shipper Cryptoquip pressed the early pace, opened a clear lead through midstretch at nearly 4-1, but fell a neck short at the wire to Wow Me Free.

In last Saturday's Affectionately Handicap, Aliysa turned back a couple of challenges up front and edged clear between calls leaving the eighth pole, but lost momentum switching back to her left lead and dropped a neck decision to Stage Luck.

It's tempting to go back to the speed once more in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Aqueduct Handicap, because Pink Viper will be breaking from the rail and projects to be in charge of the early fractions easily.

Be that as it may, Pink Viper is tough to trust coming back just 16 days after upsetting odds-on Stunt Man in an overnight stakes. Recall that he won last winter's Count Fleet at 8-1 in pace-pressing style, but then lost his next 12 starts before an improbable come-again surge to win his 4-year-old debut.

Despite the obvious bounce situation coming back on short rest off a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 107, Pink Viper is a use for me in the late pick four, if only defensively, because no one else shows much early initiative. Malibu Moonshine has been running in midpack in marathons on turf and dirt since last summer; Angliana was eight lengths off the pace in this race last year and was recently beaten at odds-on when brought back from a 10-month layoff at Philly Park; Shuffling Maddnes is a deep closer whose runner-up finish in the recent Alex M. Robb was aided by a rare outside closer's flow on the inner track; and Evening Attire (who Beyered 112 winning this race in 2002) is shortening up from 1 3/16 miles in his first start at age 10.

The interesting horse in terms of position is Judiths Wild Rush, a three-time Sovereign Award winner in Canada, who may sit just off Pink Viper. Being the lone speed may be the best trip, but being the lone stalker runs a close second, and Judiths Wild Rush - who was less than two lengths from the lead at the pace call of the seven-furlong General George last winter - has considerably more tactical speed than the others.

This has been a winter of discontent for the trainer of Judiths Wild Rush, Julian Canet. His first full meet in New York got off to an 0-for-16 start that included five second-place finishers, notably Hurrah by a nose at 22-1. Judiths Wild Rush was entered to run in a Dec. 13 money allowance that was canceled because of snow, and a 10-day holiday break followed soon after, so his second to Throng in the one-mile Native Dancer two weeks ago was his first start in more than four months. When the horse in front runs his seventh furlong in 11.70 seconds and goes on to finish the mile in 1:34.80, two-fifths of a second off a 27-year-old track record, which is what the Todd Pletcher-trained Throng did, there's not much you can do about catching him.

Judiths Wild Rush is coming back on shorter rest than Pink Viper, but is not coming off a big jump to a new Beyer top, and could go forward at a square price.

In sharp contrast to the Aqueduct Handicap, there will be no shortage of early speed in Monday's 24th running of the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, a six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds formerly run as the Best Turn from 1985-2004, and won by such notables as Java Gold (1987) and Da Hoss (2005).

Projected starters Accredit, All Expenses Paid, Go Go Shoot, and Law N Dora all have speed.

Based on his maiden victory on Thanksgiving Day, though, Accredit will be the speed of the speed. Coming off a 25-length loss in his debut 68 days earlier, Accredit was 34-1 for his second start, and improved leaps and bounds to outduel Tiz It through fractions of 21.49, 44.63, and 56.89 seconds. For purposes of comparison, two races later the six-furlong Fall Highweight for older sprinters was run through fractions of 21.92, 45.12, and 57.14. Tiz It is still a maiden, but a fast maiden: He set a blistering 44.40-second pace in the recent Hutcheson Stakes.

Accredit has been given 58 days to recover from that hard-fought maiden victory, and should be very tough to catch.