05/02/2005 11:00PM

Best races for bettors on turf


ELMONT, N.Y. - Two main themes, celebration and security, have been played up prominently as Belmont Park's 100th anniversary meet gets under way with tightened prerace security.

A third theme, the yet-to-be determined weather, will also have a role in how this centennial season goes, because if Thursday's card is any sort of indication, six-horse fields on dirt are going to be the norm.

Here's hoping it's not an unusually rainy spring, because, boy, do we need plenty of turf racing.

Thursday's five dirt races drew a total of 30 betting interests, six per race.

Meanwhile, four races scheduled for the turf courses were far more popular at entry time: The fourth and sixth, for $35,000 claiming males on turf, attracted nine and eight runners, respectively. The ninth race, for statebred maidens, filled to capacity with a dozen runners, including two also-eligibles.

The featured eighth race is just an entry-level allowance scheduled for one mile on the Widener (outer) course, but at least nine were entered along with one main-track-only runner, Shots.

Thankfully, the weather forecast calls for sunny skies through the weekend.

As is often the case with early-season grass races, several horses in the eighth are returning from layoffs, notably Clever Greek, who has not been out since Valentine's Day of 2004, and Vest, who has not started in nearly two years.

Clever Greek began his career with two wins on Aqueduct's inner track, both against claiming company, and was claimed from a 15-length romp some 14 months ago. He has turned in several bullet workouts across town.

Vest, now 5 and trained by Bill Mott, makes just his fifth lifetime start. He won an off-the-turf mile in the mud here on May 31, 2003, and has been on the shelf ever since. Vest finished third behind eventual stakes winner Willard Straight in his only start on turf.

The one to catch may be King's Coronation, unraced since last October.

A pace factor in a couple of minor stakes last year, King's Coronation earned his maiden win here last fall.