11/12/2001 1:00AM

Big A races after crash


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Although an American Airlines flight crashed Monday in a Queens residential neighborhood that was less than 10 miles from Aqueduct, the nine-race Veterans Day card went on as scheduled.

Plumes of smoke from the crash site in Belle Harbor were visible from Aqueduct's press box, which is about five or six stories high, until about 11 a.m. Aqueduct is located less than one mile from John F. Kennedy International Airport, where American Airlines Flight 587 bound for the Dominican Republic originated. The plane left Kennedy at about 9:14 a.m. and crashed three minutes later.

Track president Terry Meyocks met with racing officials after the crash to discuss whether to run.

Meyocks said making sure the horses could get to the track was the major issue. "Once we got the horses here we decided to go," he said.

Immediately following the crash, all bridges and tunnels leading into New York were closed. That prevented jockeys Rafael Medina and Jeremy Rose from making it to Aqueduct. It also meant shippers Comet Kris, the morning-line favorite for the seventh race, and Chieftaincy, scheduled to run in the ninth race, could not make it from Maryland and Delaware, respectively.

Meyocks said the decision to run was made easier when New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the crash did not appear to be related to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Belmont canceled a week of racing following those attacks.

Aqueduct did offer free admission and parking Monday, normally a dark day. A crowd of 3,778 attended the races.

The crash literally hit close to home for some NYRA employees.

Andrew Byrnes, NYRA stakes coordinator, lives a few blocks away from the crash site with his parents and two brothers. Byrnes tried to drive home Monday morning, but was turned away when the two bridges that lead to his house were closed.

Byrnes said his mother heard the plane crash. "She said it was this loud noise like you wouldn't believe," Byrnes said.

Irwin Wenger, a mutuel clerk who works in the press box, said one of the engines from the plane landed at a gas station, 1 1/2 blocks away from his house.

"I heard the fire engines and ran out and saw smoke," he said. "I went over to the gas station where the engine part had fallen. I saw hundreds of firemen and police. The fuel smell started to get to me so I left for work."

The crash did not affect a Tex Sutton flight that left New York's Republic Airport in Farmingdale at 8 a.m. carrying about 10 horses to Kentucky and California.