11/29/2010 3:48PM

Aqueduct action moves to inner track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – From the need for ice scrapers early Monday morning to the sights of bundled horsemen to the whirring of metallic horse trailers flying around Belmont Park, signs were everywhere that winter is fast approaching. Of course the biggest sign of all comes Wednesday, when Aqueduct’s inner track opens for a four-month run.

A steady diet of six-furlong sprints and mile-and-70 or mile-and-a-sixteenth two turn races – mostly for mid-to bottom-level claimers and New York-breds – will punctuate the proceedings through the end of March.

Though it hasn’t released the schedule for 2011, the New York Racing Association plans a stakes program similar to last winter’s, highlighted by the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham on March 5, five weeks before the Wood Memorial on April 9 over the main track. Before the end of this year, Aqueduct will run seven stakes, with the Grade 3, $100,000 Queens County on Dec. 11 being the richest event.

The jockey colony will look slightly different than in winters past. While Ramon Dominguez is likely to dominate again – and win his fourth straight inner-track title – his challengers will include former Florida regulars Cornelio Velasquez and Eddie Castro. David Cohen and C.C. Lopez, second and fourth, respectively, in last year’s inner-track standings, are back.

New faces to the colony include Junior Alvarado, who won seven races during Aqueduct’s main-track meet, and Eurico Da Silva, the leading rider at Woodbine, who is expected to be here beginning next week. Brian Pedroza looks like an interesting apprentice.

There are three turf races carded for Wednesday but with rain in the forecast, those races –including a $48,000 first-level allowance/optional claimer which goes as the sixth – could be moved to the dirt. If that race is run on dirt, the Bill Mott-trained Jaguar Paw is the one to beat. A 3-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway, he has improved with the addition of blinkers and has the pedigree to handle a wet track.

In the fifth, a second-level allowance for New York-breds, Mr. Grievance returns from an eight-month layoff for trainer Steve Asmussen. Last December, Mr. Grievance returned from a 13-month layoff to win a New York-bred maiden race by 17 lengths over a muddy inner track.

Assistant trainer Toby Sheets said the most recent layoff was precipitated by foot issues, which Mr. Grievance has dealt with throughout his career.

Rudy Rodriguez, the early favorite to win the trainer’s title, sends out Wicked Climb in that spot, and he could be the one to catch under Victor Santiago.