01/18/2005 1:00AM

Tale of the tape looks even for layoff horses


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Handicappers will have a hard time choosing which layoff horse to back when Our Royal Dancer and Cativa return from seven-month breaks in Thursday's $54,000 allowance feature at Aqueduct.

Both 5-year-old mares were in excellent form before being sidelined by injury in June, both hail from trainers who excel off the layoff, and both have run well over the inner track.

After going winless in eight starts in 2003, went 4 for 6 in 2004, including a victory in the West Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 19. Trainer Bruce Levine said Our Royal Dancer came out of that race with a problem that forced him to take her out of training for 60 days.

Levine had Our Royal Dancer nominated to a couple of sprint stakes in December and January, but said he thought she needed more time. After working a solid five furlongs Dec. 24, and acting "bored" in her most recent work, Levine decided to run her.

"I didn't want to throw her to the wolves," Levine said. "She's training good. She's almost getting bored. Her work two back was a good one."

Our Royal Dancer's only bad effort in her last six starts came in the Grade 2 Genuine Risk, in which she ran against the likes of Bear Fan and Harmony Lodge.

Levine wins at a 24-percent rate when bringing horses back from layoffs of greater than six months, and has already done that at this meet with Way to the Top and New York Cat.

Richard Dutrow Jr. claimed Cativa for $55,000 in Sept. 2003, and the mare has won six of eight starts since. Cativa's most dominant performance in that period was her last, a 7 1/2-length allowance victory at Belmont on June 17.

Dutrow said had a leg injury shortly thereafter and needed time to let it heal. Though Cativa is 5 for 12 at six furlongs, Dutrow said he believes she is better going slightly farther.

"I think she's better at a one-turn mile or seven-eighths, but I don't want to try her two turns first time back," said Dutrow, who wins at a 29-percent rate off long layoffs. "She's sprinted okay on the inner."

Cativa, who breaks from post 5 under Aaron Gryder, blew out a bullet four furlongs in 48.38 seconds on Monday.

Belong to Sea, third in her return from a five-month freshening, could be the main speed of the race. Lavender Lass and Distinctive Kitten round out the field.