02/26/2007 1:00AM

Storm Boot Gold plummets

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Storm Boot Gold faces an important test in Wednesday's feature at Aqueduct.

With nine career wins and $344,187 in earnings, Storm Boot Gold holds a substantial class edge on the competition in the optional claiming race that is also open to second-level allowance horses.

The calendar, unfortunately, is working against the New York-bred. Gary Contessa, the Big A's leading trainer, said the 6-year-old Storm Boot Gold has not returned to the races this season with his usual zip.

Taking advantage of the claiming option, Contessa entered Storm Boot Gold for the $50,000 tag to give the horse some class relief at a reduced level the horse has not faced since December 2005.

"He's gotten older and he's really in need of a class break," Contessa said. "I've always managed to get six or eight starts out of him and then I give him six months off because he's had a very arthritic back, a very arthritic hind end.

"He's always come back and been a wonderful horse. Now, at age 6, I just don't see the same horse. I'm hoping the class relief gets him back closer to the winner's circle, if not in it."

Following the customary layoff, Storm Boot Gold returned Feb. 18 in the Hollie Hughes Stakes for New York-breds where he stumbled at the start, raced wide throughout, and ran last, beaten 21 1/4 lengths.

"I don't think the stumble at the break was all that bad," Contessa said. "I don't think it had anything to do with the outcome of the race. He was outrun by better horses and he's not the same horse he used to be."

If Storm Boot Gold fails to pick up his game in this spot, a further plunge down the claiming ladder is likely.

While Storm Boot Gold tries to recapture past glory, the field for the six-furlong race includes an interesting up-and-comer in Colonial Note.

Colonial Note, a 4-year-old gray trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for the Darley Stable, makes only his seventh start and fourth straight at the Big A. Like Storm Boot Gold, Colonial Note encountered trouble at the break in his most recent outing and ran fifth. His prior effort was a first-level allowance victory on Jan. 13 in which he earned a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure.