04/10/2007 12:00AM

Grand Merger tough, rain or shine


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A rainy forecast places two scheduled turf races in jeopardy Thursday, but shouldn't have much effect on a pair of optional claimers for New York-breds out of the chute. Race 6, for fillies and mares at 7 1/2 furlongs, and race 8, for males at a flat mile, each will be run under second-level allowance conditions.

In the $45,000 filly division, track condition should make little difference for Grand Merger, a maiden winner by a big margin in the slop at Belmont last fall and the upset winner of the Maid of the Mist Stakes on a fast track immediately afterward.

After being overmatched in the Grade 2 Demoiselle, Grand Merger wintered at Payson Park for trainer John Kimmel. She makes her 3-year-old debut against eight older rivals.

After breaking from the far outside post and racing wide as the favorite last out, Scatkey drew the rail for her return to the main track. She ran a close second out of the chute last fall before finishing fourth, beating half the field, in the Montauk Handicap on the final day of the fall meet.

Scatkey won a first-level allowance first time on the inner track, and was subsequently in the money in three of four starts at this condition for trainer Pat Kelly. The lone exception was a fourth-place finish when she turned back to six furlongs.

"She's better going a little longer," said Kelly. "She's due. She was chasing hard all winter, that's for sure."

Scatkey has run well on wet tracks at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga, so the forecast could work in her favor.

Lady Elaine won 3 of 5 starts at the winter meet, and ran her career-best race in defeat last out when she forced the pace, drew clear a furlong from home, and was run down late by Fuego Grande on a dull inner track.

A wet track, however, could make Lady Elaine vulnerable. She caught slop in back-to-back starts here last fall and finished far back both times.

The $46,000 male division drew a field of 10, including the Gary Contessa-trained entry of Heathrow and Pay Attention, and it appears wide open.

Heathrow has never been in the money in seven starts on the main track, but won a long sprint at Saratoga last year and ran the best race of his career first time off the claim two starts back.

Other contenders include Run With the Lark, Children's Annex, R Clear Victory, and Interior Designer.