01/05/2006 1:00AM

Just in case you missed it


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With the holidays over and a new year under way, this is an opportune time to review what transpired during the first few weeks of racing on Aqueduct's inner dirt track. If you've been distracted since Thanksgiving weekend, bring yourself up to speed with some selected items from New York's final days of 2005.

Nov. 30: Because of the way the calendar fell, the first day of "winter" came early enough that horses may have inner-track running lines for five consecutive months, November through March.

To get an idea of how sharp the inner track's turns are, consider that of the four dirt tracks on the circuit, the one-mile inner is the shortest in circumference but has the longest stretch at 1,175 feet. The stretch on the main track is 1,156 feet; Belmont Park is gargantuan, but the stretch is a mere 1,097 feet; Saratoga's stretch is 1,144 feet.

Four gate-to-wire winners included router Bush's Song, who ran off to a 15-length lead through a speed-crazy 45.41-second half-mile (around a turn!) and remained clear.

Dec. 1: This was a better day for off-the-pace types. Four winners rallied from the rear half of the field, including bombs Thirteen Mil ($60) and Jem Finch ($35.40).

The tough-as-nails gelding Spooky Mulder upped his career record to 23 wins from 58 starts after surviving a fierce stretch battle with Potrisunrise, no slouch himself at 14 for 46. Those two are part of a vanishing breed.

Dec. 3: Wave the Baton won his third straight turf race, a second-level allowance for New York-breds that turned out to be the final grass race of the season.

The Garland of Roses Handicap was won by Lilah, who turned 9 on New Year's Day.

Dec. 4: The "4X" worn by juvenile maiden winner Spenny is a saddlecloth number that appears on this circuit about as often as Haley's Comet (next scheduled to fly over in 2061).

Rally-wide types fared particularly well, notably a 10-1 upset from out of the clouds by Home and Away, who overtook odds-on Zippy Missy in the East View.

Dec. 7: Another thing you see about once every 86 years: a six-furlong dirt sprint with a final quarter (23.92 seconds) faster than the first quarter (24.07 seconds). Given the situation in the Fly So Free Stakes for 3-year-olds, Tashdeed did well to run Sir Greeley to a photo after trailing early.

Dec. 8: Though early speed is generally at an advantage on the inner track, four winners on this card were last or next-to-last in the early stages, three of them at double-digit mutuels.

Dec. 11: After springing Home and Away in the East View for 2-year-old fillies, trainer Joe Lostritto struck again when stretch-running Platinum Couple ($35) lit up the toteboard in the Damon Runyon.

Dec. 14: Inside speed ruled. Bold Decision and Melodeeman combined for a "two-speed number" in the track-record time of 1:03.97 for 5 1/2 furlongs. Before chiseling a statue of the winner, remember the distance is being run on the inner track for the first time this winter.

Dec. 16: Throat surgery has evolved into an extreme makeover, and it is the most significant equipment change in the game - but unless there is Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup coverage, it's a virtual cinch that John Q. Punter will be left in the dark. Colita was good enough to go off at 5-2 in two graded stakes toward the end of 2004, but had gone totally off form in 2005 and had lost his last four starts by a combined 78 lengths. He returned from a two-month layoff and paid $18.20 for a last-to-first score in an allowance/optional claimer, after which it was reported he had gone under the knife for throat surgery.

Bettors have no chance in a situation like that. Moreover, the ones who are still game enough to head out for a day of racing at the Big A are asked to pay $9.50 for a chicken sandwich, fries and a soda.

Merry Christmas!

Dec. 19-27: There was no racing for nine straight days, coincidentally my longest stretch of breaking even through a forgettable year at the betting windows.

Bring on 2006.