03/18/2004 12:00AM

Follow calkprints to cashing window


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Mother Nature is quite obviously suffering from dyslexia, because after all, isn't March the month that comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and not the other way around?

During the opening week of racing on Aqueduct's main track, temperatures in the 50's lulled New York horseplayers into a false sense of security. After watching the snow fences being removed from the turf course, and seeing the first turf race in the condition book for April 9, who could blame them for their premature emancipation from winter's blues?

Yes, spring arrives Saturday!

But alas, Old Man Winter's final gasp was a solid and sneaky one-two punch. The midweek snow and temperatures that alternated above and below the freezing mark turned Wednesday and Thursday's tracks into the color and consistency of mocha oatmeal left out overnight on the kitchen counter. And, as of late Thursday afternoon, weather prognosticators were estimating a halffoot of new snow overnight and into late Friday morning, which prompted New York Racing Association officials to batten down the hatches and reschedule Friday's card for Sunday.

By post time for Saturday's chute stakes doubleheader of the Gotham and Cicada for 3-year-old colts and fillies, respectively, the mercury was expected to climb back toward 50 degrees.

Such a quick thaw means track conditions will potentially be a major factor. If the track is wet Saturday, bettors are well advised to pay particular attention to which horses are equipped with mud calks.

The theory is that calks provide superior traction in the muck and mire. The last four days of wet-track racing suggest they work wonders. See if you're convinced after perusing the recap:

Saturday, March 6. The weather had been unusually calm and dry heading into the final weekend of inner-track racing, and this was the first time in four weeks that the surface had been wet and sealed.

Calked horses (24 of them on the card) dominated in the slop, winning seven of nine races, returning mutuels totaling $76.80, a tidy profit on $2 flat bet wagers of $48.

Among the winners were the three highest prices of the afternoon, Phish ($15.40), Our Royal Dancer ($18.60), and Sea Leon ($15.20). A box of Sea Leon and the three other calked horses in the sixth race nailed a trifecta worth $895 after Hitchin' Post (17-1) and Golden Contender (5-1) filled out the underneath slots.

Non-calked favorites went just 1 for 6, the only winner the 8-year-old veteran Ground Storm, who won the Stymie Handicap for the second time in three years.

Sunday, March 7. The track was drying out, upgraded from good to wet-fast throughout the last day on the inner.

Even though the track was harrowed, it still contained significant moisture, and of 20 calked horses, five were winners. Again they tossed a flat-bet profit, their mutuels totaling $52.50 on a $40 investment.

Act of Reform ($24.60) wore calks as the longest-priced winner on the card. The fourth race trifecta ($117) consisted of the only three calked horses in the field

Wednesday, March 10. After the two-day break, this was opening day on the main track. The drying-out surface was labeled muddy for the early daily double, then good for races 3, 4, and 5, and fast (wet-fast, really) thereafter.

Calked horses had another banner day, with four of the 13 winning, and returning a total of $154.40 on $2 flat bets of $26.

The highlights:

Garret ($16.20) was the only calked runner in the second race.

One Perfect Fit ($74), again, was the only calked runner in the fourth race. She had been winless from 14 previous starts against maidens, the latest an 18-length defeat.

Anties Boy ($57.50) and Summer Dust (7-1) linked for a $414 exacta as the only calked runners in the eighth race. Anties Boy was 2 for 45 lifetime going in, including a record of 0-0-0 from his last 22 starts.

Wednesday, March 17. The next wet track came courtesy of some St. Patrick's Day snow. For a fourth straight time on a wet track, calked runners seemed to have the luck of the Irish. Somewhat surprisingly, there were only 10 calked horses, but three of them won, and they returned $70.50 in mutuels on a $20 investment.

Two bombers bookended the program, Ok Monsoon ($24.80) winning the opener, and Allisons Smile ($37.20) upsetting the nightcap by six lengths.

Granted, Ok Monsoon was dropping to a maiden claimer for the first time, but she was still making her first start in over four months, and had been beaten a total of 128 lengths in four starts as a 2-year-old.

At 1 for 33 lifetime, Allisons Smile was tough to come up with as well, but his only victory had come on a wet main track at Aqueduct last spring.

Adding up the four-day totals, betting $2 on all calked horses, whether on the inner or on the main, required $134 and returned $354.20.

Prominent New York trainers who regularly equip their horses with calks include Gary Contessa, Frank Laboccetta Jr., Bruce Levine, Mike Hushion, Nick Zito, and anyone named Jerkens. As April showers come our way, those names will probably be worth remembering.