05/04/2006 12:00AM

From Buffalo Raceway to the Fort

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Tom Agosti got off to a fast start with a win and a third with the only two runners he saddled on the opening weekend here at Fort Erie.

"I had a slow winter with the Thoroughbreds," said Agosti, who in 2004 ended the six-year reign of Layne Giliforte as the leading trainer at Fort Erie.

"We didn't go to Florida. Instead, we are just training here. We started in the middle of February."

In the past, Tampa Bay was Agosti's off-season quarters. He competed there and prepared his runners for the Fort Erie meet. Last year he even had a small string at Finger Lakes.

Agosti, 48, worked with Standardbreds for 17 years before more attractive purses steered him towards the Thoroughbreds in 1994. Three years later, he dropped Standardbreds completely.

Last year, at the request of some of his owners who also compete at nearby Buffalo Raceway, Agosti again started to dabble with harness horses.

"We messed with 9 to 10 over the winter," said Agosti. "We won 21 races at Buffalo from over 60 starts. We'll still keep a half-dozen of them."

Agosti has 19 runners in his barn here, but none this year at Finger Lakes.

"We're concentrating on here," said Agosti, a native of Tonawanda, N.Y."We'll be looking to claim five or six more. Some of our runners, like Sailors Knot and Blue Ridge Linda, will likely spend most of the year at Woodbine."

Blue Ridge Linda, a winner of 4 of her 6 starts here last year, is one of four entered by Agosti on Saturday's card. She is in an allowance race with Cory Clark aboard. Clark, with three winners, is the leading rider after opening weekend.

Richards, back after 10 years away, rides a winner

Jockey Maree Richards, who retired in 1996 to raise a family, scored with the third mount of her comeback here in last Saturday's second race.

Richards, 39, finished last in her first ride on April 21 at Woodbine, then fifth in the race immediately preceding her victory.

During the winning ride Richards felt it wasn't going to happen. She was seven lengths behind the leader, Fire Lake, in midstretch.

"I thought, 'Oh! He's going to gallop,' and then I saw he was stopping," she said. "So I started riding real hard, and it worked out."

More handicapping contests coming soon

According to new publicity director Daryl Wells Jr., there are plans in the works for an increased number of handicapping contests for fans at the track this year.

On Saturday there will be a Pick the Derby Winner contest for a $500 prize. Also on Derby Day, umbrellas will be given to the first 2,000 purchasers of a track program.