05/27/2008 12:00AM

Two separated by nose meet again

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Two experienced sprinters with a combined 74 starts and 15 wins, plus of a pair of lightly raced fillies each seeking her second career victory following a lengthy absence are key players in the two most intriguing races on Thursday's nine-race card at Belmont Park.

Acclimate and El Bandido Rojo, separated by a nose as the one-two finishers in a $25,000 starter handicap in April at Aqueduct, are rematched in a similar six-furlong sprint in race 3.

In race 8, Pulpitina, who has not raced since winning her maiden by more than seven lengths last November, and City Bird, who won her career debut almost a year ago and has been idle since October, launch their comebacks in a six-furlong first-level allowance.

The 7-year-old Acclimate was once considered good enough to run in the Grade 3 Laurel Futurity and the Grade 3 Gravesend in December 2005. A winner of 11 of 50 starts, he has been claimed four times since last October, most recently moving to Gary Contessa's barn for $20,000.

In his first start for Contessa, Acclimate rallied along the rail to outfinish El Bandido Rojo by a nose. He retained his sharp form when he stepped up to finish a close third in a $35,000 claimer and comes back just 12 days later. Contessa connects at a 22 percent rate with horses who finished in the money last time and return within 14 days.

El Bandido Rojo, a 4-year-old who has won 4 of 24 starts, also moved up in class following his near-miss against Acclimate. He was competitive for a half-mile in a second-level optional $50,000 claimer. The winner, Starforaday, came back to win the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap on the Preakness undercard.

Pulpitina and City Bird are among six fillies seeking to clear their first allowance condition in the day's nominal feature.

A $475,000 purchase at the Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in April 2007, Pulpitina finished second from off the pace in her career debut, then flashed high speed to wire eight rivals last Nov. 14. Her trainer, Christophe Clement, shows a good record of 3 for 10 with fillies and mares returning from long layoffs in a dirt sprint.

City Bird, trained by Rick Dutrow, easily won her career debut at Belmont last June 3 and just missed in a first-level allowance at Saratoga two months later. Dutrow is 6 for his last 25 with female sprinters back following a layoff of more than 180 days.