03/28/2011 1:56PM

Aqueduct racing moves back to main track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The switch from Aqueduct’s inner oval to the main track is more a symbolism than realism that a significant change is going to come. The truth is, with New York’s high-powered outfits extending their winter stays in south Florida – and many stopping over in Keeneland on their way back – the real improvement in the quality of the product won’t take place until Belmont opens April 29.

But after a harsh winter combined with a significant horse shortage that made for some unpalatable cards, a change of scenery is always good. The 1 1/8-mile main track allows the racing office to card races at more distances than the one-mile inner track. Seven furlong races are back in the mix, and one-mile races are run one turn as opposed to two over the inner.

Turf racing is on the horizon, though it might be wishful thinking to believe the three grass races carded for Friday will actually be run. Between below-freezing overnight temperatures this week and a forecast that calls for rain starting late Wednesday, it could be until the weekend or next week that the turf will be utilized.

The main-track portion of Aqueduct’s schedule calls for only 18 days of racing as the track will be dark Palm Sunday (April 17) and Easter Sunday (April 24) as mandated by state law. There are seven graded stakes on the schedule, highlighted by the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 9 that will feature early Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo. That day’s card also includes the Grade 1 Carter Handicap for older sprinters, the Grade 2 Bay Shore for 3-year-old sprinters, and the Grade 3 Comely for 3-year-old fillies. This Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Excelsior, the Grade 3, $150,0000 Distaff on April 16, and the Grade 2 Jerome for 3-year-olds on April 23 are the other meet highlights.

Wednesday’s nine-card includes five maiden claiming events, though the featured second-level optional claiming heat at one mile drew a competitive six-horse field. As with every track, there are horses for courses, and two who excel over Aqueduct’s main track – the New York-breds Saginaw and Ruffino – are entered in this one-mile race.

Saginaw, a 5-year-old son of Peruvian, is 3 for 4 over the main track with a neck loss in his one loss. In his last race over the main track, Saginaw won a New York-bred second-level allowance race, beating, among others, Inherit the Gold, who went 4 for 4 over the inner track. Saginaw stalked the pace that day, a style that may suit him well in this speed-laden field. Saginaw did beat open company rivals in gate-to-wire fashion over the inner track on March 9.

Ruffino, an 8-year-old gelded son of Raffie’s Majesty, is 5 for 6 over the main track. His last trip over the main track was a nose victory at odds of 13-1 over Icabad Crane in the Tinchen’s Prince Stakes going a mile on Nov. 25. He has not run since finishing last to Icabad Crane in the Alex M. Robb Stakes over the inner. He is in for the $50,000 claiming tag.

“Age is catching up to him a little bit,” trainer James Bond said of Ruffino. “He’s just a step slower. A one-turn mile, I don’t think he wants any further than that. He came out of his last race a little rough. We sent him to the farm to regroup, we’ll see what happens.”

Writingonthewall, Hermosillo, Masala, and Magic Lion complete the field.