03/06/2006 1:00AM

Keyed Entry switches to Gotham

Keyed Entry, John Velazquez riding, cuts the corner and heads for home en route to winning the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After losing two top contenders last week, the $200,000 Gotham Stakes on March 18 picked up a major player on Monday when trainer Todd Pletcher said he would send the undefeated Keyed Entry to New York for the Grade 2 race. The Gotham, run at 1 1/16 miles on Aqueduct's inner track, serves as a prep for the $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 8.

Pletcher previously said he was pointing Keyed Entry to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes, also March 18. Initially, Pletcher was concerned about the weather being poor in New York at that time. But the forecast calls for spring-like temperatures beginning this weekend and lasting through at least the early part of next week.

"We considered all the options, the pros and cons," Pletcher said. "The weather looks, temperature-wise, like it will not be poor. And we don't have to worry about the rain with him," Pletcher said, noting that Keyed Entry won the Hutcheson over a sloppy track.

Pletcher added, "The early forecast looks good, and it's an easier ship for us. We have a barn at Belmont all set up; we have staff in place. The inner track seems like it's in good shape. Our horses [have] been running well on it."

Pletcher is the second-leading trainer at the inner-track meet, with 27 wins - including five stakes - from 82 starters.

Perhaps another reason why Pletcher opted for the Gotham is that highly regarded allowance winners Strong Contender and Barbican will not be participating. Strong Contender is being pointed to the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 25. Barbican is sidelined with an injury.

Keyed Entry will be making his two-turn debut in the Gotham. He is 3 for 3 with a maiden win last summer at Monmouth, an allowance win at Gulfstream on Jan. 7, and his upset of First Samurai in the 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson on Feb. 4.

As of Monday, Pletcher had not confirmed a rider for Keyed Entry. John Velazquez must choose between that horse and Bluegrass Cat, who is expected to run in the Tampa Bay Derby, also on March 18. Edgar Prado could be a candidate to ride whichever horse Velazquez doesn't select.

In the Gotham, Keyed Entry will face a field that includes Achilles of Troy, winner of the Count Fleet and Whirlaway stakes here. Others being pointed to the Gotham are Church Service, Greeley's Legacy, Like Now, One Way Flight, Sweetnorthernsaint, Sunshine Alpine, and possibly Deputy Glitters.

Sweetnorthernsaint, who won the Miracle Wood Stakes by 10 lengths at Laurel in February, may not be able to run if New York Racing Association officials don't lift the ban on shippers from Maryland racetracks before March 18. The ban is related to the outbreak of equine herpesvirus at those tracks earlier this year.

Sweetnorthernsaint worked six furlongs in 1:12 Sunday at Laurel. One Way Flight, second to Achilles of Troy in the Whirlaway, worked six furlongs in 1:14.84 Monday over the Belmont Park training track.

Florida shippers coming for Toboggan

Keyed Entry isn't the only Florida shipper coming to New York for a stakes.

Primary Suspect and Friendly Island are expected to ship to New York this week for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan Handicap. Primary Suspect, who won the Toboggan last year, has not been out since finishing last in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico on Preakness Day.

Friendly Island, a Pletcher trainee, finished sixth in the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap after getting cooked in a hot and heavy pace duel. Pletcher kept Friendly Island out of last Saturday's Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship at Gulfstream Park for fear of the same thing happening. Also, that race was at seven furlongs. The Toboggan is now a six-furlong race on the inner track.

"Six furlongs is a better distance for him, and he's a New York-bred - he runs for bonus money," said Pletcher, who also plans to run Paumonok Handicap winner Bishop Court Hill.

Pick-six carryover, 1 p.m. post

Though the main track does not open for another three weeks, post time moves back to 1 p.m. beginning Wednesday. The nine-race card features a pick-six carryover of $38,968.

The feature on Wednesday's card is a $46,000 entry-level allowance race for 4-year-olds and up going a mile. There is a field of seven, but only five betting interests.

Small pick-six tickets might stand alone with the Frank Stronach-owned entry of Golden Harpoon and Cadillac Cruiser. Golden Harpoon, trained by Pletcher, comes off a win in maiden special weight company and could be the controlling speed from the rail under Mike Luzzi. Cadillac Cruiser, trained by Justin Nixon, won a nonwinners-of-two-lifetime for $30,000 claimers.

Leading trainer Gary Contessa sends out Rhumjar, a five-time winner, who has finished second in three of his last four starts. Interior Designer has won three consecutive races over the inner track for Paraneck Stable.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman