01/19/2007 1:00AM

Hushion proudly nears 1,000th victory

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Mike Hushion says he isn't much on statistics, but he does appreciate the fact that he's closing in on his 1,000th career victory as a trainer.

"Absolutely," said Hushion, who had 996 career wins through Friday. "I don't know if people today would understand this, but for years if you won 100 races you were leading trainer in New York. Now you get these guys who on Feb. 3 have won their 100th race."

Hushion won 100 races in a year only once, in 1993 when he saddled 105 winners from 370 starters. His 102 winners on the NYRA circuit that year put him second behind Gasper Moschera. Hushion's next highest total came in 2005 when he won 80 races from 304 starters and his stable earned $2.9 million.

Hushion, 58, worked as an assistant to Allen Jerkens for seven years before going out on his own in the mid-1970's. He dealt with mostly claiming horses early in his career. His success with claimers - many owned by Seymour Cohn - caught the attention of horseplayer and horse owner Ernie Dahlman. It was with Dahlman in the early 90's that Hushion's career began to take off.

Barry Schwartz then came on board in the 1990's and the former Calvin Klein CEO became a big part of Hushion's stable. After dealing with mostly claiming horses and New York-breds, Hushion, in recent years, has begun purchasing yearlings and 2-year-olds at auction.

"It seems that part of the stable has become pretty strong," Hushion said. "We've accomplished a lot from buying 7 to 12 horses in the sales. We're winning a couple of graded stakes with each crop. We plan on going to Keeneland every September and hopefully loading up and playing the game a little more on the high end."

Some of Hushion's recent graded winners include Star Dabbler - who was hurt in a dead heat for win in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby and retired - Nothing But Fun, and Great Intentions. Fernando Po, the first of Schwartz's current 3-year-old crop to make it to the races, won two stakes at 2.

Hushion said he has about eight 3-year-olds that will shortly be making their debut, many in south Florida, where Hushion has a dozen horses stabled. Hushion has 35 head based at Belmont Park.

"Don't get me wrong, I still feel great winning a 10-claimer, I really do, but once you get a little bit of a taste of these big races - one weekend at Saratoga we were second in two Grade 1's in a row - that's what I've come to strive for," he said.

Toward that end, Great Intentions, recent winner of the Affectionately Handicap here, will make her next start in the Grade 2, $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on Feb. 17.

In addition to Dahlman and Schwartz, Hushion also credits owner Marty Cunningham for keeping his stable successful.

"He's someone that's been going to the 2-year-old sales and also enjoys the claiming game," Hushion said.

Crew works on turf course

It may be mid-January and the first noticeable snow has just fallen, but it's never too early to talk turf racing. Taking advantage of the previously mild conditions, the New York Racing Association maintenance crew has been working on the much-maligned Aqueduct turf course for the past three weeks.

Jockeys complained during the fall meet about a soft spot on the turf course that ranged from the half-mile pole to the three-eighths pole. Aqueduct conducted just 15 turf races during last fall's meet as compared to 33 in 2005.

In an attempt to improve the drainage in the soft area, NYRA has been drilling holes in the course and filling them in with gravel and sand. The holes were drilled in a 300- to 400-foot area on the backside, according to track superintendent Jerry Porcelli.

"We found a shelf that was blocking the water," Porcelli said. "We're drilling holes all the way out to 35 to 36 feet out and we're filling them in with pea-sized gravel to within a foot of the top surface and putting a sandy-top dressing to finish it off. Hopefully, that will help bring off some of that water when we get heavy rain. We're hoping this is a fix that will work. We'll see; only time will tell."

Porcelli said that Joe King, the longtime NYRA track super, did the same thing about 20 years ago when there was trouble with the Aqueduct turf course.

Depending on weather, turf racing normally resumes the first or second week of April.

Tony Dutrow saddles favored entry

Without a stakes scheduled for Sunday, the feature is a second-level allowance race at six furlongs. The race also carries an optional claiming tag of $40,000.

Trainer Tony Dutrow, who won three races with three starters on Friday, sends out the favored entry of Shmooo and Lemons of Love. Shmooo, a 5-year-old gelded son of Real Quiet, came off a 19-month layoff to win a first-level allowance race by 1 1/4 lengths over the inner track on Dec. 15. He should get another contested pace with Touchdown Kid and Red Crusader in the field.

Lemons of Love also comes off a first-level allowance win, on Dec. 9. Lemons of Love, a 4-year-old gelded son of Not for Love, has 3 wins and 1 second from 4 starts since Dutrow took him for $25,000.

Other contenders in the field are Bold Decision and Daddy Joe.