02/04/2008 12:00AM

Time is now for Stunt Man

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Scouring the condition book for a suitable spot for his New York-bred Stunt Man, Gary Contessa found the Master Digby Stakes for statebreds on Feb. 18.

But somewhat concerned over a possible shutdown of New York racing by then, and with his horse training extremely well right now, Contessa has elected to run Stunt Man in Wednesday's $65,000 Ground Storm Stakes at a mile and 70 yards over Aqueduct's inner track.

The Ground Storm is one of two overnight stakes on Wednesday's card. Contessa, the meet's leading trainer with 43 victories, will be well-represented in the $65,000 Dewars Rocks for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies with I Promise.

Stunt Man has won 4 of his last 6 starts dating back to Aug. 22, when he took the $150,000 Albany Handicap for New York-breds at Saratoga. He won an open-company overnight stakes at Belmont before finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Jerome. He won two more stakes before finishing second to Pink Viper in the Brushing Up Stakes on Jan. 3.

In that race, Stunt Man looked like he was going to win comfortably in the stretch only to have Pink Viper come back along the rail and win by one length. Speed figures showed that race to be very fast - Pink Viper received a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 - softening the blow for Contessa.

"That horse came back to get him, and we had a hard time understanding that until the figures came out on the race," Contessa said. "Pink Viper just freaked that day, and he's been known to do that."

Sixteen days after the Brushing Up, Pink Viper finished last in the Aqueduct Handicap, perhaps not fully recovered from his swift previous race. Contessa chose to give his horse more time, and was going to wait until Feb. 18. But with NYRA's second extension to its franchise set to expire Feb. 13 - and officials hinting they won't take another one - Contessa opted for this.

"Stunt Man is doing really, really well, and I was a bit concerned whether we're going to have racing on Feb. 18," Contessa said. "I think I'm going to run the horse while he's doing this good."

The likelihood of a wet track shouldn't bother Stunt Man, who won the Don Rickles by five lengths in the slop here on Dec. 14.

Trainer Bruce Levine will send out both Shopton Lane and Explosive Heat against Stunt Man in the Ground Storm. Those two horses have combined to win 10 of their last 12 starts, with Explosive Heat having won his last three since a poor effort in Saratoga.

"I took him up to Saratoga, he just didn't do any good," Levine said of Explosive Heat. "He ran about the way he trained up there. Brought him back and he's been good ever since."

Both Explosive Heat and Shopton Lane have been successful from on and off the pace, but with Shopton Lane breaking from the rail he will most likely try to go to the front. The prospect of a wet track shouldn't hamper either one.

Judiths Wild Rush, third as the favorite in the Aqueduct Handicap, is another contender in this field. Kenta Kun and Like Now, the 2006 Gotham winner, round out the field.

I Promise can deliver

I Promise returned from a lengthy layoff to win a first-level New York-bred allowance race by four lengths on Jan. 16. Contessa hopes that is only the beginning of what could be a promising 3-year-old season for I Promise, a daughter of Hook and Ladder

"She did that well within herself - could've gone quicker and done much more," Contessa said.

I Promise, beaten a nose in the Grade 3 Schuylerville, is 2 for 2 against New York-breds and will take on Dance Gal Dance, who has won both of her starts. There is plenty of speed in this race, which could help Contessa's other runner, Quixotic Lassie, who cuts back to a sprint. No Shopping Maria is another threat from post 6 for Levine.