03/15/2005 12:00AM

Dutrow, Bejarano have three shots as inner closes


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - In addition to St. Patrick's Day festivities, local horseplayers have another big reason to celebrate Thursday. It is scheduled to be the last day of racing on the inner track.

And yes, we really mean it this time.

"Scheduled" is the operative word, because weeks ago the original start date of March 9 was pushed back a week, and when the main track was still covered in snow and slush last week, the New York Racing Association announced that the inner track would be pressed into service for two more days.

At long last, Mother Nature appears to be relenting. A stretch of sunny and seasonable weather has allowed NYRA's track superintendent, John Passero, to coax the main track out of hibernation.

"So far it's coming along pretty good," Passero said early Tuesday afternoon. "Unless something major happens, which I don't foresee, we should be training on the main track Thursday morning."

Richard Dutrow Jr. and Rafael Bejarano, who topped the trainer and jockey standings heading into the final two days on the inner track, team up three times on Thursday's card with horses of varied backgrounds: Bleacher Creature in the third race, Make My Day Jur in the seventh, and Surrey Down in the eighth.

Surrey Down drew post 3 in a field of seven filly and mare allowance sprinters going six furlongs. Since a maiden-claiming win at Gulfstream Park 13 months ago, Surrey Down has lost 10 starts in this entry-level condition. The fact that she was claimed from her last start, however, is enough to warrant a second look, because Dutrow is 22 for 48 first time off the claim since the start of 2004.

, a late-running type, must improve in order to overtake contenders such as Ace's Cappella, Keesler, and Miss Discover.

, a sharp second last month when brought back from a layoff of exactly one year, is coupled with Epoxy in a $50,000 claimer for older males at 1 1/8 miles. Epoxy, who returned from 10 months on the sidelines to finish fourth just last Sunday, is a probable scratch considering that both employ front-running tactics.

makes his first start for Dutrow in a field of 3-year-old claiming sprinters, but the role of favorite may go to Tipper, a Philly-based colt who is trained by Dutrow's brother, Tony.