03/08/2004 12:00AM

Back to the main track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After a few weeks of above-normal temperatures and dry weather in New York, Mother Nature showed that she wasn't ready to lose her grip on winter. Monday, a slushy mix of rain and snow was falling at Aqueduct, but the poor weather wasn't expected to delay the opening of the main track on Wednesday.

Aqueduct's 38-day spring meet will get under way with a nine-race card, featuring a second-level allowance race for older New York-bred males going a mile. There is a pick-six carryover of $38,956.

With the switch from the inner track to the main oval, post time for the first race changes to 1 p.m. Eastern.

The return to the main track allows for mile races to be run around one turn, instead of two turns. Seven-furlong races also make their return with the opening of the main track.

The highlight of the meet is the $750,000 Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on April 10. The Grade 1 Wood Memorial has always been an important stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby, and that was underscored when three of the last four Derby winners - Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), Monarchos (2001), and Funny Cide (2003) - emerged from the Wood Memorial.

A total of 18 stakes, worth more than $3.1 million, are on the schedule, and several of those races are expected to attract some of the country's best horses. Besides the Wood Memorial, the only other Grade 1 run at the meet is the $350,000 Carter Handicap, which likely will draw last year's winner, Congaree.

The first race of consequence concerning the Triple Crown is the Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham on March 20. Some of the horses under consideration for the Gotham are Master David, Pomeroy, Redskin Warrior, Deputy Storm, Sinister G, and Quick Action.

, is possible in the $150,000 Distaff Breeders' Cup on March 27.

The opening of the main track usually brings a migration of trainers who wintered in Florida. One trainer in particular who has done extremely well with his stable upon his return is Allen Jerkens, a winner of three spring training titles. Jerkens won last year's meet over Richard Dutrow Jr., who is coming off an outstanding inner-track meet with 47 winners

Jockeys John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, and Jerry Bailey also figure to be major players for some portion of the spring meet. Velazquez, who currently leads the standings at Gulfstream Park, has won three spring titles and has done so after getting a late start because he was still riding in Florida at the beginning of the meet.

At a glance: Aqueduct

RACING SCHEDULE: 38 days - March 10 through May 2. Dark Mondays and Tuesdays. No racing April 4 (Palm Sunday) and April 11 (Easter)

POST TIME: 1 p.m. Eastern

HIGHLIGHTS: Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial April 10; Grade 1, $350,000 Carter Handicap April 10; Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham March 20; and Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup April 3.

ADMISSIONS: $1 general; $3 clubhouse. Children 12 and under free.

PARKING: $1 general; $4 clubhouse preferred; $4 valet.

LOCATION: 110th St. and Rockaway Blvd, South Ozone Park, N.Y.

PHONE: (718) 641-4700.

INTERNET: www.nyra.com