01/02/2008 3:46PM



We finally get a bicoastal breather today on Jan. 2, the first day since Christmas that Aqueduct and Santa Anita have both been closed. It's a brief but welcome respite before both reopen Thursday, when it's also Opening Day at Gulfstream Park.

Happy new year, fasten your seatbelts, and let's get caught up:

--Aqueduct: The 2007 season ended Sunday and the mandatory-payout pick-six chalked out as I needed it to, though Shuffling Madness would have made the ticket worth more like $10k than the $2675 that 97 of us got after Naughty New Yorker prevailed. Jean-Luc Samyn could not have ridden the winner more perfectly, while Shuffling Madness seemed to take an unnecessarily overland route, but Naughty New Yorker usually comes out on top when those two hook up and maybe he's just a little bit better.

It took until early Monday afternoon, less than 12 hours from the expiration of its franchise, for NYRA to get the official green light to open on Tuesday, under a short-term deal with the state that runs through Jan. 23. The state legislature reconvenes Jan. 9, leaving the political combatants two weeks to hammer out a deal. For those seeking in a fuller explanation of the stalemate in Albany between Gov. Eliot Spitzer and senate majority leader Joe Bruno, which has paralyzed state government in general as well as the franchise resolution, this long but interesting piece from the Dec. 10 issue of The New Yorker is recommended reading.

So Aqueduct reopened Tuesday, though chalkhounds probably wished that it hadn't. A procession of bombs (Of All Times at $56.50 in the 5th, Tzipi at $49.20 in the 6th and Judge William at $46.80 in the 7th) meant nobody picked six or even five, and there's a $46,068 carryover into Thursday's card. Control System ran her record to 5 for 7 winning the Interborough H., earning a Beyer of 105 for her six furlongs in 1:11.55 on a slow, sealed and muddy track. That's a bigger fig than Maryfield or River's Prayer, the likely 1-2 finishers for the new Eclipse as champion female sprinter of 2007, earned last year. Control System, a 4-year-old by Lion Hearted, is being pointed for the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel next month.

Santa Anita: A near-frenzy of pick-six betting surrounded the last card of 2007 and the first card of 2008. After nailing the first three pick-sixes of the meet, the crowd missed on Sunday, and a $153,466 carry into New Year's Eve drummed up another $782,600, pretty impressive for a one-day carryover with no mandatory payout. Maybe everyone tried to get out for 2007 with one final stab. I contributed all of $192 for a little pre-champagne action, neglecting to use any of the first three winners. The sequence proved too tough for anyone, and a $587,644 carryover into 2008 generated $1,598,097 in additional bets Tuesday, when 27 seers connected for $54,536.80 apiece. Forunately, I had decided life was too short to spend New Year's Eve trying to dope it out, because I doubt that any expenditure of time or bankroll could have gotten me to put all six winners on the same ticket. To me, the toughest winner in the sequence was Crown of Thorns, a Mandella second-time starter who won by 7 lengths in 1:20.65 for seven furlongs, good for a Beyer of 91. He paid "only" $18.60, but I would have had to go five-deep to have him.

Santa Anita may have cost itself a triple-carryover and a $5 million Thursday pool by keeping the co-featured G3 El Conejo out of the pick six, instead running it as the fourth race. The thinking was that Idiot Proof was a cinch and he would make the pick six too easy. Oops. Idiot Proof ran a weary third at 3-5 behind 3-1 In Summation, and the pick six instead kicked off with a winning universal single in La Tormenta, who cruised at 4-5 in a field where no one was else was lower than 8-1.

Florida: Calder closes after today's stakesless card and ran its final graded stakes Tuesday when Cowboy Cal stayed unbeaten in three grass starts, winning the G3 Tropical Park Derby by two lengths over Pletcher stablemate Why Tonto. Cowboy Cal, a Giant's Causeway colt out of a half-sister to Behrens, earend a 93 Beyer, close to his 95 for winning the Laurel Futurity by 6 1/4. He's obviously got a bright future in 3-year-old grass stakes and it won't be a surprise to see him try the dirt again, given the (relative) paucity of 3-year-old classic prospects in the Pletcher arsenal at this point.

The pp's are up for Gulfstream's first three cards. The opening-day feature is the South Beach Stakes for statebred turf fillies, where Quite a Bride looks more like 3-5 than her ML 9-5 taking a sharp drop. The graded stakes action begins Saturday. The G3 Mr. Prospector H. for older sprinters drew a field of eight, with Keyed Entry (3-for-3 at GP including the '06 Hutcheson and '07 Deputy Minister) adding blinkers and making his first start since June in a contentious field that also includes Mach Ride, Noonmark and Grand Champion. The G3 Hutcheson for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs drew a field of 10, half of them turning back from defeats in route races, including Halo Najib and Cool Coal Man, who finished 5th and 7th afdter duelling early as the favorites in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

With the local forecast calling for a low of 16 degrees Friday morning in New York, I won't mind getting on a plane a few hours later for opening weekend at Gulfstream.