03/16/2005 12:00AM

Main track finally set to open


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The piles of snow in the parking lot notwithstanding, spring arrives for New York horseplayers on Friday with the long-awaited opening of Aqueduct's main track. Originally scheduled to open on March 9, the start of the main track was twice delayed because of Mother Nature.

Though temperatures are still below normal, the mercury has reached the mid-40's the last few days and nothing white or wet has fallen from the sky in a week.

The spacious nine-furlong main track will allow for a variety of one-turn events, ranging from six furlongs to one mile. Friday's nine-race card features four one-mile races and three 6 1/2-furlong events.

During the 31 days of racing through May 1 over the main track, there will be 16 stakes, 13 of which are graded, including the Grade 1 Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds on April 9. The prep for the Wood is the Grade 3, $150,000 Gotham Stakes, which will be run Saturday at a mile.

The major route race in the handicap division over the main track is the $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap on April 2. Friday's $56,000 featured allowance could lead to a start in the Excelsior.

Friday's feature marks the return to the races of Snake Mountain, the 7-year-old gelding who has been snakebitten by infirmities the last two winters. After winning an optional claiming event over the inner on Dec. 3, Snake Mountain looked poised to have a big winter over a track where he won several stakes a few years ago.

A poor performance in the slop on Jan. 6 could be forgiven due to Snake Mountain's disdain for off surfaces. While training for the Aqueduct Handicap in mid-January, Snake Mountain entrapped his epiglottis, which required surgery and time off.

had a bullet gate work on Feb. 24 followed by two more solid workouts, prompting assistant trainer Steve Moyer to say, "We're looking for a big effort'' on Friday.

, trained by Mark Hennig, won a nine-furlong, third-level allowance race at Gulfstream on Feb. 9. Before that, he won a one-turn mile over this track on Nov. 27. He could be the main speed under Pablo Fragoso.

Cuba has won three of his last four starts and had a good workout on Monday, when he hooked up with Galloping Grocer.