03/24/2005 12:00AM

How to avoid a spring cleaning at the Big A


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - You couldn't tell by the slushy wet snow that blanketed the Big A the other day, but spring is here, and after a couple of postponements racing has finally returned to the main track.

It still feels like winter racing, especially the weekday cards that contain pretty much the same horses that ran on the inner track all winter, but several aspects of a spring meet at Aqueduct are worth revisiting.

Horses for the course

The advent of Daily Racing Form's expanded track-specific career boxes have diluted the wagering power of this angle, but suitability to the surface remains an extremely positive factor.

Some horses don't handle the winterized inner track, which tends to be looser and more difficult to grab than the main track; they may suddenly regain their best form when back on the main. Especially dangerous are runners with good back form on the main that recently returned from a layoff with one or two fair-to-middling conditioning efforts on the inner track.

Oh, chute!

Another form reversal trigger is the availability of long sprints out of the chute from 6 1/2 furlongs to a mile.

Sprinter-miler types who wintered in New York were between a rock and a hard place, because their only options were a six-furlong dash or a two-turn route.

I prefer horses with proven ability at the distance, especially if they have been running in less desirable circumstances recently.

In the absence of chute specialists, look for horses that have won or finished close-up going shorter and longer - for example, a horse in a seven-furlong race that has run well at six furlongs or at middle distances.

Also keep in mind that . . .

* Horses who have been showing speed and tiring at two turns often turn into stalkers with an enhanced late kick when turned back to a long sprint.

* Bettors may discount horses that have been setting or forcing the pace at six furlongs and tiring, but they may be able to secure a clear lead through slower fractions and coast home unchallenged. A good example was Traci Girl, the winner of Wednesday's one-mile allowance feature. After chasing speedball Electrical Carlita at six furlongs through fractions of 22.59 and 45.56 in her previous start, Traci Girl was able to get clear through slower fractions of 23.41 and 46.94 and thus had plenty in reserve for the final stages, and actually widened her lead.

Outside posts more playable now

Horses have to be much the best to win from outside posts on the inner track. This winter, posts 10-12 at six furlongs won at a combined 9-for-140 rate (6 percent). Routers from posts 10-12 had virtually no chance, finishing a combined 3 for 100.

On the main track, the 1 1/8-mile routers get a slightly longer run to a more gradual bend into the clubhouse turn, which means outside slots are not quite as detrimental.

Posts are a non-factor at six furlongs.

Out of the chute - where there is a long run to the only turn - pace-pressers and mid-pack stalkers may actually benefit from an outside draw that gives their riders the luxury of "playing things off the break" and settling into striking position with minimal effort.

Rally-wide winners who lose a lot of ground on the far turn are seldom seen on the inner track, but they are far more common on the main. Just ask anyone who backed Survivalist and watched him win last Saturday's Gotham Stakes from the five path on the turn.

Chalk walks the walk

There are times where hunting for long shots with imaginative angles is rewarded. Generally speaking, however, springtime at Aqueduct is not one of them.

Favorites annually approach the 40 percent mark at this meet due to the common situation of standouts in short fields.

The winter warriors are worn down after several months of constant racing, and as the days unfold there will be several races each day where Florida shippers - either with recent races at Gulfstream Park or a series of workouts at bucolic Palm Meadows or Payson Park - will jump off the page of your Form.

The Florida invaders have several advantages:

* They enjoyed an uninterrupted training schedule during the winter.

* They are energized by the warm-to-cool climate change.

* If they raced recently at Gulfstream, especially in maiden and conditioned allowance races, they have been competing against superior stock.

These snowbirds either win or win laughing, and usually there is nothing the locals can do to stop them.

The best course of action is to concede victory to the standouts, and seek to leverage them in multi-race exotics.