04/28/2005 11:00PM

Gygistar drops with goal


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Mark Hennig figures he might have aimed a little too high with Gygistar last year.

The gelding had a solid year, earning almost $300,000. Yet he won only one race, the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap.

Hennig hopes to get Gygistar back to the winner's circle more frequently this season by avoiding a steady diet of Grade 1 races.

A good starting point will be a return appearance in the $100,000 Westchester, the one-mile, opening-day feature at Belmont Park on Wednesday.

"We probably set our sights a little too high running in the spots we did," Hennig said. "He ran consistently well but just wasn't quite good enough to beat those horses at a mile-and-an-eighth. We're going to try and place him in the right spots this year to hopefully gather more wins."

Gygistar, 6, was slated to arrive at Hennig's Belmont barn on Saturday after wintering in Florida at Payson Park. He ran twice at Gulfstream Park, winning an allowance race at one mile and finishing second to Value Plus in the 7 1/2-furlong Artax Handicap.

"The little added distance in the Westchester should help us a little bit," Hennig said. "Being back at Belmont will also help. He has always run well here."

Other possible Westchester runners include Value Plus, Bahama John, Swingforthefences, Unforget-table Max, and Wando.

Hushion's bittersweet Big A goodbye

Trainer Mike Hushion had mixed emotions heading into the final weekend at the Big A.

"There have been some nice paydays at Aqueduct but it's always nice to run at Belmont," Hushion said.

Hushion was highly effective at the Big A's spring meet. He saddled 14 winners, good for second place in the standings behind Richard Dutrow Jr., from only 42 starters. That equated to a very healthy winning percent of .333.

Hushion finished with a flourish, winning four straight races in the span of Thursday and Friday. He had no horses in on Saturday or Sunday.

"It's been a good winter," Hushion said. "It's hard to say why things fall into place in this business for a period of a couple of months and then they fall out just as quick. It's such a cyclical game."

Hushion is an old hand at New York winter racing. He was leading trainer at Aqueduct's 1993 winter meet and spring meets.

"I've paid a lot of my bills with winter racing for a lot of years," Hushion said.

His formula is basic: aggressive placement and constant turnover of the stock through claims.

It gets tougher with the action shifting to Belmont.

"You pretty much take a step back," Hushion said. "With all the grass and 2-year-old races, you don't get the claiming races as often."

* Jockey Chantal Sutherland, a Sovereign Award winner in Canada trying to establish herself in New York, got her initial Big A win in the first race Friday aboard Devil in Excess ($10.20). There were some anxious post-race moments as the stewards reviewed the winner's stretch run for possible interference against Pause for Thought before posting the result as official.

* The racing office will return to the "old schedule" for entries when racing returns to Belmont. Over the winter, the racing office closed Wednesday entries on Saturday and Thursday entries on Sunday.

The race office will go back to closing Wednesday entries on Sunday with Thursday entries taken on Tuesday.

* Big A officials made an interesting decision on turf racing Friday. Split divisions of New York-bred maiden special weights races for fillies and mares, the fourth and ninth, were shifted to the main track. The two other grass races, the six and seventh races, were left on the course, which was rated firm.