03/06/2003 12:00AM

Main thing: Note changes


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After a morning deluge, Aqueduct's inner track was sloppy during Wednesday's card, and as so often happens on that tight-turned layout, particularly when it is wet, horses with inside speed owned a towering advantage. There were five gate-to-wire winners, and three more were sitting just off the pacesetter right from the get-go.

It wasn't the first time early speed had the edge on the inner track, and it surely won't be the last. A review of result charts since the beginning of the year shakes out the following days when speed horses had the edge (exclamation points denote an extraordinary edge):

January: 8, 15 (!), 16 (!), 19 (!), 25 (!).

February: 5, 6, 14, 20, 23, 28.

That's a pretty decent number of speed-favoring days. Now, here is the complete list of days when outside closers did much better than might have been expected:

January: 26.

That's it, one day. I was all set to see if Wednesday's bias was still present 24 hours later, but as it happened the only reason to venture out to the driveway Thursday was to shovel six inches of "light snow" that had been in the original weather forecast.

Some light snow. And with the scheduled re-opening of the main track already pushed back two days to next Friday, this latest wintry salvo isn't going to help the New York Racing Association meet that date.

Eventually - and hopefully in time for next Sunday's Gotham Stakes - the temperature will warm sufficiently to allow the return of racing to the nine-furlong main track, which differs greatly from the inner track in terms of configuration and composition. Horses tend to have an easier time getting hold of the main, which has a 10-inch base of clay, silt and sand, than they do on the looser, limestone-based inner. It often pays to give horses with good back form on the main the benefit of the doubt, provided their odds are attractive.

Some other quick things to keep in mind about the upcoming surface switch:

* The return to the main track means the return of elongated sprints out of the chute at seven furlongs and one mile.

Whereas inside posts are generally preferred on the inner, the edge often goes to horses breaking from the middle to outside posts out of the chute, where inside lanes tend to be a bit deeper. Last fall for example, posts 1 and 2 were a combined 0 for 34 at seven furlongs from opening day through mid-November; during the same period, posts 1 and 2 at a mile were just 4 for 72. Regularly, these inside horses break in the rear half of the field.

* In chute races, horses who have been showing speed and weakening late in routes on the inner track will often display an improved stretch punch, especially at seven furlongs.

As for inner-track sprinters, the first impulse might be to upgrade the chances of those late-running types who have been running out of ground. More dangerous, however, are those not quite quick enough to get the lead at six furlongs who suddenly become "the main speed" in the slightly longer and slightly slower-paced chute sprints.

* Shippers from Gulfstream Park will win their fair share of races, and quite possibly more.

The Florida invaders have several advantages, most notably their ability to train in uninterrupted fashion in sunny splendor through the winter months, while the locals often had gallops or workouts scrapped because of inclement weather or problematic track conditions.

They also tend to get an extra energy boost shipping from a warm climate to a cooler one, and many will be honed to a sharp edge after competing in fast-paced events on a Gulfstream strip that rewards early speed.

* An angle to keep in mind: While early speed and stalking-types do just fine on the main track in general, one little-known tidbit is to watch for a bias in favor of stretch runners after the surface has dried out following a rain. That is, the first day it has returned to a "fast" condition. This trend repeated itself on numerous occasions at last year's spring meet.

Too much, too soon?

Kafwain and Badge of Silver, who occupy the top two spots of Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch, will throw it down in Sunday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds.

Among the 3-year-olds, it promises to be the race of the season thus far, what with Kafwain coming off a scintillating San Vicente score with a Beyer Figure of 114, and the unbeaten, as-yet-unchallenged Badge of Silver having recently paired Beyers of 108 and owning something of a home-track advantage.

But as far as Kentucky Derby preparation goes, it's fair to wonder whether the showdown may prove to be too much too soon if they lock horns in a prolonged battle and run themselves to a frazzle. Veteran observers of the New York racing scene, for example, will recall the 1981 Gotham Stakes, in which Proud Appeal and Cure the Blues went at it tooth and nail from the opening bell to the wire and finished noses apart after a mile in a screaming 1:33.60.

Neither of them had anything left by the time they got to Louisville. Proud Appeal finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby as the 9-2 third choice. Cure the Blues finished 18th as the stronger half of the favored entry at 2-1.