03/27/2002 12:00AM

Zonk, Irving's Baby vie for favoritism


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Zonk, who has enjoyed a strong winter campaign in New York, and Irving's Baby, who dominated a Maryland stakes in her latest, square off in Friday's $100,000-added Next Move Handicap at Aqueduct.

Zonk, at 118 pounds, is the starting highweight among the seven fillies and mares entered in the Grade 3 Next Move. Irving's Baby carries 117.

Either Zonk or Irving's Baby, whose combined earnings total $1,185,458, likely will land the role of the favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Next Move.

Zonk, winner of the Grade 3 Affectionately, won her last start on March 10 at Aqueduct in an allowance race. The 4-year-old Zonk was a determined half-length winner after a stretch duel with With Ability, who is entered here. In between the Affectionately and her allowance win, Zonk finished second in the Grade 3 Rare Treat but was disqualified and placed fourth for interference.

Zonk's last three efforts came over Aqueduct's inner track, but Zonk's trainer, John Servis, said he's looking forward to the switch in surfaces. Last fall over the main track, Zonk finished fourth in the Grade 2 Top Flight, beaten only two lengths by Cat Cay.

"The main track doesn't bother me at all," Servis said. "I thought her last race on the main was a very good race."

Richard Migliore rides Zonk, a stalker, from post 6.

Todd Pletcher, Irving's Baby's trainer, planned on running the 5-year-old in last weekend's Gala Lil Stakes in Maryland because the mare favors the Laurel surface, but the race failed to fill. Pletcher said the Next Move was the backup plan for Irving's Baby, who won the 1 1/8-mile Maryland Racing Media Handicap by eight lengths on Feb. 23.

Pletcher said Irving's Baby probably would be freshened after the Next Move and pointed to the Delaware Handicap in July, a race she won in 2001. Ramon Dominguez rides Irving's Baby, who drew post 3.

Irving's Baby has early speed but isn't as quick as With Ability, the expected pacesetter from the rail. With Ability's trainer, Mark Hennig, seeking his third Next Move win, switched his sprinter to routes two races ago with good results. With Ability controlled the pace and won a mile and 70-yard race on Feb. 8 and nearly wired the field in a 1 1/16-mile race, but was passed late by Zonk. The Next Move's distance is probably stretching it for With Ability, who is coupled with Unrestrained.

Transcendental comes off a big win and is a legitimate threat to Zonk and Irving's Baby.

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