12/13/2002 12:00AM

X factor in Runyon: Distance


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Figure out who can get the distance, and that should go a long way toward predicting the outcome of the Damon Runyon Stakes on Aqueduct's inner track.

Sunday's $75,000-added Damon Runyon drew a field of nine New York-bred juveniles, with the Gary Contessa-trained uncoupled duo of Unswept and Grey Comet expected to vie for favoritism in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Unswept, who breaks from the rail with C.C. Lopez, and Grey Comet, who is on the outside, are the only two-time winners in the field. They have an apparent edge on the others based on Beyer Figures earned in recent wins on the main track, but as Contessa warned, "Bettor beware. Neither has been two turns."

Unswept and Grey Comet each come off wire-to-wire wins at six furlongs, and there is other speed between them in the gate.

"I honestly don't know which horse is better in this instance," said Contessa, whose 38 wins topped the 2001-02 winter meet. "I think they augment each other well, but there's no guarantee they'll get two turns until I see it. Unswept has more natural speed than Grey Comet, and he's a faster breaker. If someone runs with him through fast fractions, there's no way he'll get two turns. Grey Comet is more relaxed."

Aaron Gryder, who has ridden both colts to victory, opted for Grey Comet, only to see him take the worst of it in the draw for post positions while Unswept got the coveted rail.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Gryder said. "Unswept won so handily, but Grey Comet worked very well for me, and it seemed like he would get the two turns. You could either look smart or silly. Hopefully, I'll look smart."

Grey Comet, winner of the New York Stallion, carries 122 pounds as the only stakes winner in the field, and gives everyone six pounds.

Drawn in between Unswept and Grey Comet, in post position order: Explicit Action, Chief Cat, Karakorum Blackjack, Go Rockin' Robin, Looking Grand, Grey Pride, and Tomorrows Banquet.

Chief Cat and Tomorrows Banquet are coupled because of common ownership.

Looking Grand wears a bar shoe. Explicit Action, a $300,000 yearling purchase by Padua Stables, will add blinkers after winning a maiden race last out.

"Explicit Action is a big, growthy colt," said his trainer, Todd Pletcher. "We're going to put blinkers on him to try to get him to focus. He was still pretty green in his last start."

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