03/19/2003 12:00AM

Finally, it's time for the main track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After a 10-day delay, the spring portion of Aqueduct's winter/spring meet is set to begin Friday with the opening of the main track. Originally scheduled to open March 12, the main track opening was pushed back several times because of winter weather issues. Though rain is in the forecast for Friday, it shouldn't hinder the opening of the main track, over which 31 racing cards will be conducted through May 4.

The return to the main track ends the steady diet of six-furlong sprints and one-mile-and-70-yard route races associated with the inner track. It also marks the return of seven-furlong and one-mile races run around one turn.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial, New York's final prep for the Kentucky Derby, highlights the main track stakes program. The Wood, which has produced two of the last three Derby winners, will be run April 12 and is expected to attract leading Derby contender Empire Maker, dominant winner of the Florida Derby.

The Wood card also includes the Grade 1 Carter Handicap for older sprinters and the $150,000 Bay Shore Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters. Other meet highlights include the $100,000 Comely Stakes April 18, which is expected to be the seasonal debut of champion Storm Flag Flying; the $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap April 5, and the $150,000 Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap April 19.

Many of New York's big-name trainers and riders will soon be filtering back from south Florida. John Velazquez made his return to New York Wednesday and others, such as Edgar Prado and Jose Santos, will soon follow. Eibar Coa, one of south Florida's leading riders, is expected to join the New York colony during the first week of April.

A duo from Dutrow

Friday's card features four allowance races, including a $56,000 classified allowance race at nine furlongs that could serve as a prep for the Excelsior.

Pleasant Breeze, winner of the 1999 Meadowlands Cup and the 2000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, makes his 8-year-old debut Friday. He would benefit from a wet track.

Richard Dutrow has two contenders in Aggadan and Tailfromthecrypt. The former has won four of his last five starts and figures to be attending the pace. Tailfromthecrypt, who has three of his last four starts, was a sharp winner of a third-level allowance race in the slop last time out.

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