12/02/2008 12:00AM

Lots of new faces for winter meet


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When Ramon Dominguez went 4 for 4 on Aqueduct's Thanksgiving Day card, it was a harbinger of winter. But if Dominguez is to dominate the rider standings at this season's inner-track meet like he did last year when he won 113 races, he will do so against several new challengers.

Aqueduct's four-month inner-track run begins Wednesday, and the turnover both in the jockeys' room and on the backstretch could make for an interesting winter.

Alan Garcia - second to Dominguez last winter - will soon be heading to Florida, along with Javier Castellano, Eibar Coa, Edgar Prado, Cornelio Velasquez, and John Velazquez.

Among the new faces this winter in the jockeys' room will be Eddie Castro, Rosie Napravnik, Victor Lebron, Winston Thompson, and a bevy of apprentice riders, led by Sheldon Russell, Maylan Studart, and Victor Santiago. Former Aqueduct winter stalwarts Jorge Chavez - who returns Thursday from a broken wrist - and Richard Migliore are back along with regulars Norberto Arroyo Jr., Stewart Elliott, Channing Hill, C.C. Lopez, Mike Luzzi, and Rajiv Maragh.

As well as apprentice riders do during the winter, Russell could be one bettors want to latch onto early. Russell returned from an injury to become the leading rider at Laurel Park with 39 winners. He has ridden 120 winners thus far in his career and has his bug until May 3.

"It's a good opportunity to come there and ride with some better jockeys,'' said Russell, who worked for trainer Michael Dickinson for two years. "It'll help in the long run. I'm excited to go there.''

Trainers Gary Contessa (82) and Bruce Levine (52) dominated the trainer standings last winter and are likely to do so again. Bruce Brown and Chad Brown are here for the winter for the first time. Mike Maker, who just set a Churchill Downs record for wins, is expected to have 35 horses on the grounds. Allen Iwinski and Scott Lake are back after a hiatus of a couple of years.

Nick Zito is leaving 35 horses behind for the winter and George Weaver will have 20. Several outfits from New Jersey and Finger Lakes will also help fill up the backstretch.

The inner-track meet will run through March 29, meaning the next four months will consist mostly of races at six furlongs, a mile and 70 yards, and 1 1/16 miles.

Though the stakes schedule for 2009 hasn't officially been announced, P.J. Campo, director of racing, said the inner-track schedule will likely remain the same as last year. Races for 3-year-olds such as the Count Fleet, Whirlaway, and Gotham will be run on the first Saturday of January, February, and March. Those races lead up to the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, to be run April 4 over the main track.

Wednesday's opening-day card for the inner track is topped by the $65,000 Coyote Lakes Stakes, which serves as a prep for the $75,000 Gallant Fox Handicap on Dec. 31. Both races are scheduled for 1 5/8 miles.

On paper, Delosvientos, a four-time stakes winner at 1 1/2 miles, looks like a standout in the Coyote Lakes. However, he is not certain to run. David Colon, the foreman for owner/trainer Giuseppe Iadisernia, said the horse is only doing "so-so'' and that Iadisernia, who is in Venezuela, would wait until Wednesday morning to make a decision.

If Delosvientos scratches, the Coyote Lakes becomes a wide-open affair with Lonely Highway an interesting prospect. That gelding's trainer, Bruce Levine, trained Coyote Lakes - a three-time winner of the Gallant Fox - as well as the distance-loving Aavelord. Levine said he claimed Lonely Highway, a son of Giant's Causeway, out of Southern California with these marathon races in mind.

"He's really trained good,'' Levine said. "We'll see if I'm smart enough or dumb enough. I did claim him for this. It'd be nice to get one to do it again. We had so much fun with the other guys.''

Ravel, trained by Todd Pletcher, has failed to live up to his early promise and will be tried at this marathon distance for the first time. Lord Kipling, a winner of two cheap marathon races at Canterbury, makes his first start off the claim for trainer Gary Contessa.