12/01/2006 1:00AM

Arroyo returns home from West Coast

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though he could only manage a third-place finish aboard favored Ed Miracle in Thursday's ninth race at Aqueduct, jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. still had reasons to feel like a winner. After a six-month experiment riding in Southern California, Arroyo was home.

"I feel great that I'm back - this is home," Arroyo said earlier in the day. "I liked California, it was a good experience, but there's nothing like home. After Puerto Rico this became my home, and I didn't really realize it till I left."

Arroyo left New York in the spring to pursue an opportunity in Southern California. He began riding at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet and rode in California through Nov. 3. Overall, Arroyo won 24 races from 247 mounts in Southern California, 11 of those winners coming at Del Mar. Arroyo said he left because he didn't feel he was getting enough business.

Arroyo, 30, said he had a conversation with Angel Cordero Jr., the agent for John Velazquez, about riding the winter in south Florida. Agents may represent two journeyman riders in that state. But Arroyo decided to return to Aqueduct, where he was the leading apprentice rider in 2000.

"I'm staying here definitely," Arroyo said. "This is where I want to be."

Arroyo has hired Jose Amy to be his agent. In 2004, Amy had his jockey's license restored after he had been banned for 24 years because of his role in a race-fixing scheme on this circuit in the 1970's. Amy gave up on his comeback in March and became a jockey agent for Carlos Quinones for a short period.

Arroyo has had his own difficulties, which included a 39-day stay in prison in 2003 stemming from an assault charge. Arroyo is convinced that he and Amy can make a good team.

"I love his work ethic," Arroyo said of Amy. "He works very hard every day and people seem to like him. I spoke to some trainers before I hired him and they all said they like him."

Rider escapes injury in prerace spill

Apprentice jockey Mario Madrid was uninjured in a spill that occurred in Wednesday's second race, but he was forced to take off his mounts on Thursday because he didn't have the proper paperwork from the hospital, his agent, Paul Demarco said.

Angel Rodriguez picked up Madrid's mount for Thursday's first race, but never made it out of the paddock. Shortly after climbing aboard Very Arrogant, Rodriguez was unseated and fell to the ground. Rodriguez lay on the ground for several minutes before getting up. He was taken out of the paddock in a wheelchair and went to first aid, where medics told him not to ride his remaining mounts.

First-aid officials made Rodriguez go to the hospital to get X-rays before they would consider clearing him to ride Friday. Rodriguez drove to Winthrop Hospital in Mineola to get X-rays taken of his left hip.

Turf racing abruptly halted

Turf racing for the season came to an abrupt end Thursday when the jockeys refused to ride the fourth race, citing a soft spot on the backside. Shortly thereafter, track officials announced that turf racing was finished for the year.

The jockeys' decision not to ride on the turf came after entries for Saturday were drawn. Saturday's fifth race, carded for 1 1/16 miles on the turf, will be run on the inner dirt track at one mile. Friday's two scheduled turf races were to be moved to the main track.

The jockeys rode one race on the grass on Wednesday and the second race on Thursday's card. Wednesday's turf race was the first run here since Nov. 5, when the jockeys complained about the same spot on the course being too soft.

"The backside just hasn't gotten any better," John Velazquez said. "I rode one race [Wednesday], and we hit that one spot on the backside and I didn't think it was so bad. But today it was a big difference, and everybody felt the same way."

Velazquez said the soft spot covers a 20- to 80-yard area beginning just before the half-mile pole.

"It was all right till you hit that spot on the backside, and then your horse just goes out from underneath you," said Channing Hill. "I didn't like it one bit. It even has a different look to it and sound to it when you go over it."

Jose Santos noted that the third quarter of Thursday's race went in a very slow 27.23 seconds.

"You know something's wrong right there," Santos said. "You go from good ground to soft ground. I don't think it's safe for the horses. Period."

Auguri heads Coyote Lakes marathon

If Auguri duplicates his two performances in marathon races during the summer, he could prove awful tough in Saturday's $65,000 Coyote Lakes Stakes. The Coyote Lakes, run at 1 1/2 miles, serves as a prep for the $100,000 Gallant Fox run at 1 5/8 miles on Dec. 30.

Win or lose the Coyote Lakes, Auguri is headed afterward to Florida where he will be tried in long-distance turf races. But trainer Barclay Tagg believes the speed-friendly inner track could suit Auguri.

In the summer, Auguri won a 1 1/2-mile optional claiming race at Belmont and the off-the-turf John's Call Stakes at 1 3/16 miles at Saratoga. In both races he led gate to wire, and in the optional claiming race he showed great determination when headed in the stretch.

"He likes to be in front," Tagg said. "He runs his best races that way. It took me a long time to learn it."

It's not often a horse is cutting back in distance when trying 1 1/2 miles, but such is the case with Successful Affair, who won a two-mile optional claiming race over the main track on Nov. 10.

Win With Beck and Colita are inner-track specialists who have competed well in distance races.

* Homerette ($34), the longest shot on the board, swept past Altesse and Love Locket just outside the sixteenth pole and persevered for a half-length victory in Thursday's $66,500 Flat Fleet Stakes. Altesse, the 2-1 favorite, finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Love Locket.

Jean-Luc Samyn rode Homerette, a 3-year-old New York-bred daughter of Grand Slam, for trainer Pat Kelly and Fox Ridge Farm.