02/03/2011 4:16PM

Freeze and thaw keeps Aqueduct closed for racing

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – At 10 a.m. Thursday, with dry conditions prevailing and with the foreign object some refer to as the sun beaming down from the sky, Aqueduct’s inner track looked to be in good shape and conditions seemed ripe for a day of racing.

Apparently looks can be deceiving. Despite tireless efforts through the night from his track maintenance crew, Glen Kozak, the director of racing surfaces for the New York Racing Association, felt the track needed more time to be in proper racing shape and thus advised his bosses to cancel Thursday’s card. It was the second straight day a card was canceled and it was the sixth cancellation of the inner-track season.

Kozak said there was still ample moisture in the track and with overnight temperatures below freezing that moisture created some icy spots on the track. Temperatures were to approach the freezing mark (32 degrees) on Thursday and with the strong sun, that would have created melting that could have made for an uneven track, according to Kozak.

“If it would have been 20 degrees we’d be running,” Kozak said. “With the temperatures going up, you’d hate to get halfway through the card, switch from harrowing to floating to hoping the track stays together.”

Kozak added that if it had been 40 degrees Thursday, with the amount of moisture that remained in the track from a mid-week storm of rain, sleet, ice, and a little snow, the track would have been sloppy.

Indeed, as the day progressed Thursday, portions of the main track that had been covered in ice and snow had melted to the point where the track looked like chocolate pudding. The outer part of the inner track, which is not used for racing, also had puddles from melted ice.

Meanwhile, material was added to the rest of the inner track – which was cleared of any ice or snow – to help with the drying out process. Tractors went consistently to harrow the track and spread the material evenly.

The inner track was open for training Thursday morning – the first time since Sunday that it was open in the morning – and trainer Rudy Rodriguez took full advantage by working 21 horses, several of whom he got on himself.

“It felt good, I wish they could run today,” Rodriguez said. “They did a good job with the track, all the horses came back good. I don’t feel like the track wasn’t safe, but maybe they were more worried about later on it getting more hard or wet. But right now the track was very good.”

“Gary Contessa said he spoke to Kozak before he decided to breeze a couple of horses. Contessa said Kozak told him the inside part of the track had some spots that were frozen and some that were thawed.

“He said the middle of the track is great but he was worried about the inside of the track,” Contessa said. “I had a couple of horses to blow out that were in [Friday] and Saturday and I let them run straight down the middle of the track. I didn’t breeze on the rail like Rudy did; Rudy was a little gamer than me, but I was going to. I’m not big on pushing my luck. Honestly, I had no problem with the track when we were training over it this morning.”

Eightyfiveinafifty recovering from 'respiratory setback'

Though he is a Grade 3 stakes winner, Eightyfiveinafifty is perhaps best known for the one race he never finished. This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Eightyfiveinafifty blowing the first turn of the Whirlaway Stakes, dumping rider Jorge Chavez, barreling through two fences, and running loose through the Aqueduct stable area. Amazingly, he mostly suffered just superficial cuts.

Eightyfiveinafifty, who in April won the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes, has not raced since finishing last in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park last June. According to Contessa, his trainer, Eightyfiveinafifty is suffering from a respiratory illness likely related to the serious bout of pneumonia he suffered last June.

“He’s had another respiratory setback but he is recovering and we’ve been told we’ll have him back here in the barn in two to three weeks,” said Contessa, who added the horse is in the care of Dr. Patty Hogan at her equine clinic in central New Jersey.

Eightyfiveinafifty was found to have entrapped his epiglottis in the Woody Stephens. He underwent laser surgery to repair that issue, but soon suffered from pneumonia. Contessa said at one point Eightyfiveinafifty weighed less than 700 pounds. His racing weight was between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds. Contessa credited Dr. Chris Byron of the Ruffian Equine Clinic across the street from Belmont Park with saving Eighyfiveinafifty’s life.

Eightyfiveinafifty had returned to the work tab in late fall and had twice breezed six furlongs and was near a race when he suffered his latest setback.

“Over the 25 to 30 years I’ve been training, more times than not when I’ve had horses that had a real serious bout of pneumonia – and I can count them on two hands – it’s left a scar of some sort,” said Contessa, who is running Preachintothedevil in Saturday’s Whirlaway. “It’s a very, very tough thing to overcome for a horse and I can’t say he’s overcome it. We don’t know where we’re going to be when he comes back.”

Big Brownie could rebound in Belle Born

The last time Big Brownie competed in a one-mile stakes race over the inner track, she ran closer to 1 1/8 miles. Parked three-to-four wide from the get-go, Big Brownie made a move entering the far turn, steadied when nearly sandwiched at the three-sixteenths pole, yet showed renewed interest when re-rallying to get third behind R Betty Graybull and Shine Upon in the Leecoo Stakes on Jan. 13.

Saturday, Big Brownie gets to break from the rail and does not have to face horses like the two that beat her last time when she runs in the $60,000 Belle Born Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares at a mile.

Big Brownie, trained and owned by Leah Gyarmati, could work out a decent trip behind Laylaben and Poppy Day, who are likely to vie for the early lead. Spa City Princess, a two-time winner over the inner track is another contender in the compact field of six.

◗ Twice in a four-day period, Aqueduct had to be evacuated due to a gas leak related to the construction of the casino. It happened on Monday and again on Thursday. Local fire companies came to the track, fixed the problem, and there were no incidents. Neither time was Aqueduct’s simulcast operations impacted.