12/09/2013 2:54PM

Aqueduct: Racing shifts to inner track Wednesday

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Barbara D. Livingston
Escrow Kid finished third but was placed second via disqualification in the Dave’s Friend Stakes at Laurel Park last month.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The light snow that fell around these parts late Sunday afternoon and was forecast again for Tuesday were the first clues that winter has arrived in the Northeast. Wednesday’s opening of Aqueduct’s inner track seals the deal.

Just in time for Mother Nature, racing on this circuit shifts to the winterized inner track Wednesday and figures to remain there until mid-March, depending on the weather. The majority of races over that span will be run at either six furlongs or a mile and 70 yards – 22 of the first 27 races are carded at those distances.

The schedule has undergone some alteration from winters past. There is no holiday break this year. In fact, Aqueduct will be open 10 of 11 days from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, with only Dec. 30 dark.

Beginning Jan. 9, Aqueduct will conduct live racing on a Thursday-through-Monday schedule. In February, Aqueduct cuts back to four days a week, Fridays through Mondays, before resuming a Thursday-through-Monday schedule in March.

As Princess of Sylmar proved last year, a good horse can winter in New York. Princess of Sylmar won the Busanda and Busher stakes over the inner track in a year that saw her win four Grade 1 races, including the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama.

The Busher and Busanda, as well as the Gazelle over Aqueduct’s main track April 5, offer qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks. The Grade 1 winner Sweet Reason, trained by Leah Gyarmati, could be using that path this year.

The winter meet features three graded stakes for 3-year-olds that offer qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. The Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome on Jan. 4, the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers on Feb. 1, and the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham on March 1 might offer the path of least resistance to the Derby.

Irad Ortiz Jr. beat out his brother, Jose, 79-76, for top honors among jockeys at last year’s winter meet. They figure to battle it out again this year, with Cornelio Velasquez, Junior Alvarado, David Cohen, and Rajiv Maragh heading the list of pursuers. Manuel Franco and Emmanuel Esquivel top the apprentice roster.

Rudy Rodriguez (41) and David Jacobson (34) were the leading trainers last winter and are likely to vie for top honors this winter. Jacobson is the leading trainer on the NYRA circuit in 2013 with 141 winners.

Rodriguez and Jacobson runners meet twice Wednesday, including in the $52,000 starter/optional-claiming sprint in which both horsemen have two-horse coupled entries. Jacobson sends out last-out winners Moments Notiz and Ground Force, while Rodriguez has Head Heart Hoof and Dawly.

Moments Notiz, in his first start for Jacobson after having raced at Indiana Downs, romped by 6 3/4 lengths here Nov. 21, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. Ground Force won in a spot like this Nov. 8 in his first start off a claim.

Dawly has won two straight after losing 15 consecutive races, while Head Heart Hoof, who won the Grade 3 Toboggan over the inner track last winter, returns off a six-month layoff.

A horse at a price could be Escrow Kid, who won an allowance race over the inner track last March for Rodriguez. He was claimed back by Carl Doran, who previously had the gelding. Escrow Kid finished third, placed second via disqualification, in the Dave’s Friend Stakes at Laurel at 43-1 last month.

“I couldn’t believe how sound he was when I got him back,” Doran said. “He had been with some trainers that are known for being very aggressive. His last race was one of his best races. He got wiped out at the start, but he kept trying.”

Doran said his one reservation is that the horse typically is not a great shipper, and he will be shipping him to New York the morning of the race.

Frazil, second to Moments Notiz last out, should appreciate the return to the inner track, where he has a 4-3-1 record from 12 starts.