04/21/2010 11:00PM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Gary Sciacca

Perhaps miffed about his omission from the last two editions of the New York Racing Association's media guide, Sciacca, a Brooklyn native who turned the big 5-0 in March, has celebrated with a 4-4-3 record from 24 starters at the spring meet, including three turf winners.

Sciacca, who won a pair of meet training titles at Belmont in the mid-1990s, claimed Bold Vindication ($17.40) out of a $7,500 dirt sprint toward the end of the inner-track session and won with him for $25,000 at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Kittylicious ($11.80) won on turf April 11 on the heels of an off-the-turf win opening day. The Vin Man ($9.70) was placed first in a turf route April 14 after Galaxy Express was disqualified for coming in and bothering several horses soon after the break.

Last week, Sciacca-trained runners Wise Choice (16-1) and Rumpus Room (64-1) completed exactas behind favored winners. Rumpus Room, a 3-year-old filly by Eddington, made her first start on grass.

Nick Zito

His Florida shippers annually seem to do well at the Big A in April, right or wrong?

Zito, who has won five Triple Crown races, posted four wins in nine racing days from April 8-18, standing at 4-6-2 with 18 starters overall. Among the runners-up was Alla Prima, an 18-1 shot who ran odds-on Muhaawara to a close decision in a maiden special weight sprint last Sunday.

Meanwhile, while A-Rod finally hit his first home run of the season for the Yankees last week, Rudy Rodriguez saddled his fifth meet winner when Rocketing Returns ($9.50) got loose on an easy lead and kept a safe margin over odds-on More Than a Reason in a $40,000 starter allowance sprint. Rocketing Returns, claimed from a third-place finish for $12,500 in his prior start, earned $24,000 in one fell swoop and recorded a new Beyer Figure top of 91.

R-Rod entered the final week at 5-1-0 from seven starters; all five of his winners made their first start for the jockey-turned-trainer.

Favorites had another strong week, including an all-chalk pick four worth $19.20 on April 16. The post-time choice was 55 for 130 (42.3 percent) heading into the final week of the meet, which is shaping up to be the chalkiest since 2007, when favorites won at a 45 percent clip.

If you're looking ahead, favorites were 230 of 607 (38 percent) at Belmont's 2009 spring-summer stand.

TRACK TRENDS

The first 31 dirt races last week were contested around one turn; the 32nd and final dirt race was the 1 1/8-mile Packett's Landing - an overnight stakes wired by Mighty Morris that was just the third two-turner on the main track this spring, along with the Excelsior and Wood Memorial.

With the meet drawing to a close, we may be at Saratoga before a two-turn race not named the Belmont Stakes comes along.

Here is a day-by-day look at the session's penultimate week:

Wed., April 14: Five of six dirt winners were never more than 2 1/2 lengths from the lead at any point, among them French Dip ($10), who set an easy pace and had plenty left to turn back 3-10 stablemate Casanova Move in the Hilbys Brite Flight overnight stakes.

Thurs., April 15: Once again, it was important to stay close early. Five of six winners were within 1 1/2 lengths of the lead at the first call. The exception was Little Wise Guy, who overcame trouble at the break to run himself right onto this week's horses to watch list.

Fri., April 16: The six dirt races included five out of the chute. No winner was ever more than three lengths off the lead.

Sat., April 17: The track was muddy and sealed in the wake of overnight rain. Four of the eight races were won wire to wire, most notably Distaff favorite Tar Heel Mom ($5.60), who splashed to the lead through opening splits of 22.13 and 44.93 and remained clear to win the seven-furlong handicap through a last three-eighths in 39.58 seconds.

"If she broke sharply, my intentions were to try to get the jump on [Matchless Orinda]," winning rider Ramon Dominguez said. "Unfortunately, we ended up going a little quicker than I was first anticipating, and as a result she was getting tired the last part. It was a pretty hard race for her because the fractions were so quick the first part, but the track seems to be speed-favoring . . . and I was able to take advantage of that."

Sun., April 18: One race at six furlongs and the Packett's Landing went to front-running types; the four races out of the chute were won by stalkers positioned one to four lengths off the lead.

Turf roundup: Clouds of dust were kicked up on a parched, sandy course, and early speed held up exceptionally well before some much-needed rain overnight Friday and into Saturday morning.

Before the rain, the course was hard enough so that Writingonthewall ($7.90), a 5-year-old New York-bred who hadn't been on turf since meeting Gio Ponti in the 2008 Hill Prince, wired a second-level statebred allowance mile in 1:35.05. That time just missed the course record of 1:34.60, set in 1985.

After the watering, stretch runners fared much better in five races last weekend; all were positioned three to nine lengths from the front early.

The temporary rail was nine feet out throughout the week.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Saturday's 131st running of the Withers, a Grade 3, $150,000 race for 3-year-olds, is the final stakes race of the meet.

The Beyer par since 1991 is just over 100, with five of the last six winners receiving figures between 102 and 110; the exception, Divine Park (91), went on to win the Westchester and Met Mile as a 4-year-old.

Following a four-day break, the 81st running of the Westchester heads the opening-day program at Belmont Park on Friday, April 30.

Among those targeting the Grade 3, $100,000 mile is Bribon, who pulled off the Westchester-Met Mile double last year.

Belmont's Kentucky Derby Day card includes a pair of Grade 3, $100,000 stakes scheduled for turf: the Beaugay for fillies and mares and the Fort Marcy for males.

POST POSITION STATS

Here are some points to ponder from Belmont's 2009 spring meet as we prepare to take the show nine miles down the road.

On the main track, apart from horses' individual likes and dislikes regarding being inside or outside rivals, there was no statistical relevance to post positions in chute races at eight to nine furlongs: The win rates for the rail horse (20.3 percent) and those from post 8 was (20 percent) was virtually identical.

Because of Big Sandy's configuration, however, six-furlong sprints begin fairly close to the turn, so post position can be more of a factor. Posts 1-3 won at 18 percent, 19 percent, and 17 percent; posts 9-11 were a combined 2 for 39 (5 percent).

In turf routes on both courses, post position is important.

In the one-mile and 1 1/16-mile Widener course races, featuring a dog-leg into the backstretch, horses need to be much best or get some racing luck to win from outside. At a mile, posts 8-12 were a combined 3 for 54; at 1 1/16 miles, posts 9-12 were 3 for 47.

In 1 1/16-mile races on the inner turf, the field breaks directly onto the clubhouse turn; posts 8-10 were a combined 1 for 27, since horses either lose a lot of ground or expend a lot of energy trying to clear to the inside after the break.

In the 1 1/8-mile races with a very short run to the first turn, posts 8-11 were 2 for 28; the rail horse, meanwhile, compiled a record of 6 for 21.

HORSES TO WATCH

American Dancer

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Last race: April 18, 5th

Finish: 2nd by 1

In his season debut, he became embroiled in a pace duel through sharp fractions and came again late on the rail to be a clear second to even-money Break Water Edison in a tough second-level allowance. He won big second time back from a layoff at Belmont last May.

Khalifa

Trainer: Nick Zito

Last race: April 14, 7th

Finish: 1st by 3 3/4

Second-time starter returned from a 67-day break and ran to a bullet workout nine days earlier to outduel an odds-on favorite and draw away from maiden $50,000 sprinters.

Little Wise Guy

Trainer: Greg DiPrima

Last race: April 15, 8th

Finish: 1st by a nose

Checked at the break, rallied three wide into the stretch, and prevailed after a hard-fought stretch drive to beat $12,500 sprinters first time off the claim. This stakes-placed New York-bred has some back class to move up the ladder.

Writingonthewall

Trainer: Carlos Martin

Last race: April 15, 7th

Finish: 1st by 6 3/4

In his first grass race since he pressed the pace in the 2008 Hill Prince - won by dual-Eclipse winner Gio Ponti - he wired second-level New York-breds in 1:35.05, narrowly missing the course record set in 1985. He is going to like those sun-baked turf courses at Belmont in June and July.