02/14/2008 1:00AM

Front-runner likely to win Hollie Hughes


Front-runner likely to win Hollie HughesP

NEW YORK - You wouldn't know it from the nasty mix of wintry precipitation that forced the cancellation of Wednesday's racing at Aqueduct, but spring is just around the corner. Though it's still three more weeks until the first graded stakes races of the New York season - the Toboggan and Gotham, a pair of Grade 3s on March 8 - there are some interesting races on Saturday at the Big A, including the Hollie Hughes for New York-bred sprinters. There are also a couple of stakes at Laurel that attracted several prominent local runners.

Aqueduct, race 2: If you missed last year's Hollie Hughes, you can catch the 1-2-7-8 finishers in this optional claiming dash at 5 1/2 furlongs. They are Introspect, idle since claimed for $50,000 seven weeks ago; Ferocious Won, claimed four times since losing a head-bob to Introspect; Touchdown Kid, the beaten favorite in the 2007 Hollie Hughes and out of the money in four subsequent starts; and Storm Boot Gold, who finished last in last year's Hollie Hughes but has done the best of these four since then, winning two races.

The horse to beat is probably none of the above, but will likely emerge as the survivor of an expected pace duel between Mr. Bourbon Street and Southern Prince. Mr. Bourbon Street was sidelined for seven months since winning three straight at Finger Lakes. Southern Prince was claimed from a runner-up finish last out to Stormin Normandy, who will be among the favorites in the Hollie Hughes.

Aqueduct, race 3: We might get a sneak preview of the Gotham pacesetter in here, as Globalization makes his first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile off a series of workouts at Palm Meadows in Florida.

This race was originally scheduled for Wednesday, and seven of the eight re-entered with no drastic post position revisions - with one exception. Theycallmetater went from posto8 to post 5, but no one else changed more than two stalls. Globalization moved one slot out to post 7, but should clear quickly, considering that reigning juvenile champion War Pass is the only horse ever to outrun him for the early lead in a dirt race.

The alternatives are Mint Lane, hugely improved beating maidens with first-time Lasix, and Holidaze, who stretches out after a pair of comeback sprints.P

Aqueduct, race 8: Stormin Normandy, Whistlin', and Premium Wine all have recent triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures to recommend them in this year's Hollie Hughes.

The pace matchup appears to favor Premium Wine, who can sit right off the other two while saving ground from his inside post.

Premium Wine won the $250,000 Gallant Bob Stakes, the only other time he drew the rail. He has been idle for seven weeks since winning an open optional claimer, but trainer Tony Dutrow recently sent out the sprinter Lord Snowdon for a last-to-first win in the Paumonok Handicap off a two-month break.

In an aside, Lord Snowdon beat me out of a small wager on a 12-1 shot named Brilliant Son at Saratoga last July 25. Because it was opening day, the all local TV news stations had on-track coverage, which meant that through the last several months of the never-ending New York Racing Association franchise soap opera, the footage of that stretch run aired nightly and became my personal version of Groundhog Day.

Laurel, race 8: Three of the seven routers in the John B. Campbell Handicap train in New York, and all come off stakes wins with virtually identical Beyers - a 98 for Angliana in the Aqueduct Cap; a 96 for marathoner Nite Light in the Gallant Fox; and a 95 for Naughty New Yorker in the Alex M. Robb.

By virtue of statebred stakes wins at all three NYRA tracks last year, and two in-the-money finishes in graded stakes, Naughty New Yorker got my vote for best New York-bred older male of 2007, as well as Horse of the Year.

Angliana traded decisions with Naughty New Yorker at the turn of 2006-07, but last spring underwent surgery for guttural mycosis, a disease that affects arteries leading to the throat, and was sidelined for 10 months. He returned to top form in the Aqueduct Cap second time back from the layoff, and appears favorably weighted, getting five pounds from Naughty New Yorker.

Laurel, race 10: Seven of the 10 Barbara Fritchie entrants have run at Aqueduct this winter - the most prominent being defending champ Oprah Winney and Control System, who has clearly outrun Oprah Winney twice recently.

After shipping regularly, Control System gets to start for the first time at her home track.

The key question for Control System is whether she will be as formidable stretching out from six to seven furlongs. That extra furlong is also uncharted territory for Golden Dawn, who has won 2 of 3 starts off a circuit and trainer change, including an overnight stakes with a breakthrough figure.