04/01/2007 11:00PM

Main track opens with concerns

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Not so long ago, the opening of Aqueduct's main track was a positive sign for New York racing. The bigger outfits that wintered in Florida were back, better horses would be racing, and turf racing was imminent.

But the landscape has changed. With a few exceptions, the bigger outfits stay in Florida longer or ship their better stock to Keeneland. Wednesday's opening day on the main track offers a $7,500 claiming race and three other maiden claiming races restricted to New York-breds. While the year's first grass race might be carded on Saturday, the viability of the turf course remains in question. The durability of the main track also remains in question.

Last fall, the main track had difficulties handling water, leading to the cancellation of two full cards and forcing three other cards to be moved to the inner track. Rain is forecast for Wednesday.

Moreover, a soft spot on the backside of the turf course limited its use to just 15 races last fall.

John Passero, the New York Racing Association's director of racing surfaces, and his staff have worked on both surfaces, attempting to correct the problems from last fall. Passero is in the process of adding sand to the main track, which he believes will help it handle a reasonable amount of water.

"If we get a tremendous amount of rain it would only help for a day or so," said Passero, who believes the problem lies in the fact the main track has a clay base. "If it's an average year it will help us. We certainly don't want the kind of rains we got last fall."

In the winter, the maintenance crew drilled approximately 1,700 holes in the turf course, from the half-mile pole to the three-eighths pole, and filled them with pea-sized gravel topped off by a sandy-type soil. It is anticipated this will help the course better absorb water.

"By just walking on the course at Aqueduct it's absolutely helped," said Passero, who will inform racing secretary P.J. Campo on Wednesday whether he thinks Aqueduct's turf course will be useable for Saturday.

As for Wednesday, the feature is an allowance race for 3-year-olds and up who have never won two races. Abraaj, a nine-length maiden winner on March 3, looks like the right one.