03/14/2003 1:00AM

Competitive Gotham lacks big names


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - There are no headline names or a clear-cut favorite in Sunday's $200,000 Gotham at Aqueduct. Instead, a competitive group of 3-year-olds are in the 11-horse field.

The Grade 3 Gotham, a prep for the $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 12, will be run on the inner track for the first time since 1984. Traditionally run at a one-turn mile on the main track, the Gotham will be contested at a mile and 70 yards around two turns because of a delay in the opening of the main track.

The Gotham will be televised live on ESPN2 at 4:50 p.m.

After a brutal winter, New York gets a much-deserved break on Sunday with temperatures climbing into the 50's and dry conditions.

Cherokee's Boy is the most accomplished and seasoned Gotham starter, but his starting status was put in question Friday afternoon when he drew post 11 for the relatively short run into the first turn.

Trainer Gary Capuano said it was the worst-case scenario for Cherokee's Boy, who has early speed.

"That's not good at all," Capuano said upon hearing the post. "We might not run I'll have to talk to the owners."

A son of Citidancer, Cherokee's Boy has won $309,929 and has a record of 5-1-3 in 10 starts.

Cherokee's Boy has won four restricted stakes, including the Goss Stryker and Deputed Testamony at Laurel in his last two starts.

"I think the two turns helps him a little bit more," Capuano said. "He has a lot of natural speed and you can get him to relax at two turns."

Ryan Fogelsonger rides Cherokee's Boy.

Colita, a son of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, is coming off a loss as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. He was impressive in two wins over the inner track and is in a good spot to win his first stakes on Sunday for trainer Carlos Morales.

Barry Irwin, president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Colita, said the Tampa Bay surface put Colita, who broke from post 10 and finished fifth, at a disadvantage.

"Tampa is banked all the way around," he said. "If you're wide, you're running up the side of a mountain. We are throwing that race out. His trained well since at Palm Meadows and I think we have an advantage training in the warm weather."

Irwin said the Gotham is being used as a stepping-stone to the Wood Memorial, a race Team Valor won in 1997 with Captain Bodgit, who was trained by Capuano.

Jorge Chavez rides Colita, who should be able to sit a good trip behind the early leaders. Colita drew 8.

Before the draw, Gimmeawink's trainer, Tim Ritchey, said he wanted an inside post and might not run if his colt drew outside. Gimmeawink drew post 9.

Gimmeawink won his last start by 1 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Miracle Wood at Laurel on Feb. 8, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

"Time will tell if he has the caliber to go on with the top 3-year-olds," Ritchey said.

Grey Comet, a winner of two stakes on the inner track, was third two weeks ago as the favorite in the John Battaglia. Alysweep, who won the Fred Capossela on the inner, has not run beyond six furlongs. Grey Comet and Alysweep are the likely early leaders.

"I've got a horse that loves the inner track and loves going two turns," said Gary Contessa, Grey Comet's trainer.

Spite the Devil finished second in his last start to Region Merit, the probable favorite in Sunday's Tampa Bay Derby.

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