02/27/2007 1:00AM

Winner back vs. same kind


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Gary Contessa makes an aggressive move Thursday with Lunar Rendezvous in the featured optional claiming race open to second-level allowance fillies and mares at Aqueduct.

Lunar Rendezvous, 6, won this identical condition last time out on Jan. 24, expending her allowance eligibility. Rather than advance to the next level, Lunar Rendezvous wheels right back for the $50,000 claiming price in the mile-and-70-yard race.

"She's a nice mare," said Contessa, the Big A's leading trainer. "At the three-other-than level, I have other fillies that I think are a little bit better. Having the $50,000 claiming option gives her a chance to win it again. This is a lateral move and she's training really, really well. I think she has a big shot to win again."

Contessa claimed Lunar Rendezvous for $50,000 in October at Belmont Park and the mare responded with a win, two seconds, and a third in four starts for the new barn.

Lunar Rendezvous has been very effective running long or short. Given the strong recent speed bias on the Big A's inner track, Contessa feels two-turn races give Lunar Rendezvous her best shot.

"Her numbers are pretty equal both ways," Contessa said. "The problem with going short is that she tends to fall off the pace. She is closer to the pace going long. The way this track is, more so than in other years, it helps speed. If you've got a closer, you've got to get that horse closer to the pace."

Lunar Rendezvous figures to have company in the early pace scenario from Stormin Mon and Casanova Story, a pair of 4-year-olds who were also last-out winners at Aqueduct.

Stormin Mon won her Big A debut on Jan. 21, getting up by a head in a first-level allowance, for trainer Niall O'Callaghan. She has never finished out of the money in five starts (2-1-2) in a career that has already taken her to California, Kentucky, and Illinois.

Stormin Mon was claimed for $50,000 out of her debut at Del Mar last August.

Casanova Story, trained by Anthony Dutrow, stretches out for the first time after compiling a record of 2-2-0 in five sprints.

Pacific Destiny, also running for the $50,000 claiming tag, is the new face in the field as she makes her Aqueduct debut and first start for trainer Bruce Levine. She most recently has been running in claiming and allowance races in West Virginia.

Completing the field are Game Card and I Dare Billy.