11/10/2005 1:00AM

This just in: The Big A suddenly is the place to be


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The long faces were out in force as soon as Saint Liam crossed the wire in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"The season is over," moaned the masses. "Now we have to go to Aqueduct for six months."

Uh, in case you haven't been watching the news recently, Aqueduct is looking pretty good these days.

Fair Grounds was submerged by Katrina. Calder Race Course was banged around by Wilma. An anonymous tornado packing 200-mile-an-hour winds blew through Ellis Park in the dead of night. Hollywood Park's new turf course failed to take root and has been ripped out. And Gulfstream Park will still be a work in progress when the winter meet begins.

Poor old Aqueduct, the track everyone loves to hate, is looking more like the Taj Mahal of racing with each passing day.

After spending May through October either at gargantuan Belmont, where the horses look like ants breaking from the 1 1/8-mile chute, or at Saratoga peering through trees and gazebos for a glimpse of the action, trip handicappers breath a sigh of relief when the racing returns to Aqueduct and its crystal-clear sightlines.

Besides an environment relatively free from natural disasters, here are some other reasons why Aqueduct takes a licking but keeps on ticking:

* When something breaks or needs replacing at this 46-year-old facility, Home Depot is right outside the Rockaway Boulevard gate.

* For now, the weather is perfect, neither too hot nor too cold.

* A rainy October has Aqueduct's turf course looking almost lush (this may very well be the first time "Aqueduct" and "lush" have been used in the same sentence).

* Route races are run at two turns - the way route racing ought to be, according to the few grizzled purists still hanging around.

* Horses will be in plentiful supply, at least compared to those dreadful cards of late March and the dog days of July, as shippers filter in from Delaware Park and The Meadowlands from now through the opening of the inner dirt track.

* Value abounds on horses with back form at Aqueduct (see Dynamo Hum at $22.40 in Thursday's fourth race).

* The racing season may be "over," but a new one is dawning. Many a talented 2-year-old is just getting the hang of things and waiting to reward you handsomely for accurately predicting improvement. Go for Gin couldn't get out of his own way in summer sprints, but came to hand at the Big A to win a maiden race and the Remsen a few weeks later. Prairie Bayou, the ill-fated 3-year-old champion, used Aqueduct's winter stakes program to hone his skills. Thunder Gulch, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont and Travers stakes, first won the Remsen. If you wanted to see Smarty Jones's first race as a 3-year-old live, you had to be at the Big A for the Count Fleet Stakes.

King's Drama deserves forgiveness

Saturday's Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap is the final graded turf stakes of the season in New York, and in the field are four who ran in the 1 3/8-mile marathon last year.

Dreadnaught and Certifiably Crazy, noses apart last year at the wire, are back. So is Navesink River. And so is Rochester, the ageless gelding who is coming off another win in Keeneland's Sycamore Stakes.

But the horse to beat is clearly King's Drama, even though he comes off a tiring eighth-place finish in the Canadian International. One bad race is forgivable when previous form is consistently good, and there were extenuating circumstances for King's Drama at Woodbine last month.

First, King's Drama set the early pace in the Canadian International, and early-pace horses had no chance on Woodbine's rain-soaked turf that day. Earlier, the horses running one-two-three at the first call of the six-furlong Nearctic Handicap wound up eighth, fifth, and 11th at the wire, while the top three finishers rallied from eighth, seventh and fifth early in a field of 12. The horses running one-two-three after a mile in the E.P. Taylor wound up eighth, 10th, and 12th, as the top three finishers came from 11th, fifth, and eighth after a mile.

Second, the pace set by King's Drama in the 1 1/2-mile Canadian International was relatively demanding - 24.66, 49.64, 1:14.09 and 1:39.25, compared to the 1 1/4-mile E.P. Taylor's fractions of 26.64, 51.02, 115.88 and 1:41.61. In a field of 10, the top five finishers were ninth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and 10th early, and kept well off the early battle.