04/29/2007 11:00PM

At long last, spring arrives in N.Y.


ELMONT, N.Y. - After an interminable four-month stint on Aqueduct's inner track and an uninspiring, albeit brief, spring meet on the much-maligned main track, New York racing gets a much-needed change of scenery Wednesday when Belmont Park opens for a 60-day meeting.

Racing will be conducted five days a week through July 22 with a 1 p.m. Eastern post most days. Wednesday's opening-day card, featuring the Grade 3, $100,000 Westchester Handicap, offers free parking and free grandstand admission.

Opening day of the Belmont meet is expected to be the debut of Internet wagering in New York, though it is only available to NYRA Rewards account members.

The presence of horses from such high-profile outfits as Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Nick Zito, and Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing was a sight for sore eyes over the weekend. In future weeks, runners from trainers Bobby Frankel and Wesley Ward are expected to join the backstretch. Three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher figures to upgrade the quality of stock over what he has kept during Aqueduct.

Horse of the Year Invasor, who won the Dubai World Cup in March, has been back in New York for about a month and is being pointed to the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap on June 30. The Suburban is one of 38 graded stakes (nine Grade 1s) being offered this meet.

The highlight, as always, is the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 9. That card also includes Grade 1 fixtures such as the Manhattan and Acorn as well as The True North, Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup and Just a Game, all Grade 2 events.

The first Grade 1 of the meet will be the $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap on May 28. A prep for that is Wednesday's $100,000 Westchester Handicap, which this year drew a solid field of six.

Sun King, who was beaten a head in last year's Met Mile, makes his 5-year-old debut in the Westchester. A son of Charismatic trained by Nick Zito, Sun King has not run since finishing 10th in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.

After a brief freshening on the farm, Sun King rejoined Zito at his Palm Meadows stable at the beginning of the year. Last year, Sun King won the Grade 2 Commonwealth BC over Keeneland's conventional dirt surface. Zito said he skipped this year's Commonwealth because he felt Sun King needed more time and he did want to run him on the Polytrack.

Sun King has not worked beyond four furlongs since returning to the work tab, but Zito said he feels his horse is fit.

"I think so,'' Zito said. "He's been terrific. If he can duplicate last year's Met Mile I'll take it. Of course I'd love to win it.''

Corey Nakatani, the last rider to win on Sun King, has the call from post 4.

It is uncertain whether Sun King will get the necessary pace he needs for his late kick to be effective.

Political Force, a son of Grade 1 winners Unbridled's Song and Glitter Woman, looks to be over the physical infirmities that interrupted his career.

He ran two dynamite allowance races going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park and finished a closed third, beaten one length by A.P. Arrow, in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap going nine furlongs.

"He was right there at the finish - he only got beat a length,'' said trainer Allen Jerkens, who has won this race five times. "So far, he's holding up good this year. He got loose and fell down on the road three weeks ago, but he's worked well since then.''

Political Force breezed five furlongs in 1:00.14 on Sunday. Cornelio Velasquez rides from post 3.

Utopia, a 7-year-old Japanese-bred son of Sunday Silence, makes his first start since winning the 2006 Godolphin Mile. Depending how he breaks, he could be part of the early pace.

"I think he's going to come out firing a pretty good shot," said Rick Mettee, who oversees Godolphin's New York string. "Whether he can beat the Sun Kings of the world I don't know.''

Completing the field are Happy Hunting, third in this race last year, Evening Attire, and Park Avenue Ball.