02/04/2005 1:00AM

Middle Earth flying in for Whirlaway

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It is rare at this time of year for a horse to ship from England to Aqueduct to run in a stakes race. But Middle Earth was scheduled to arrive in New York over the weekend for next Saturday's $75,000 Whirlaway Stakes.

A 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Dixieland Band, Middle Earth went winless in five starts in England. His first two starts were on turf, a surface his connections said he didn't handle. Middle Earth's last three starts have been on all-weather dirt surfaces in England, and he finished second all three times.

Andrew Balding trains Middle Earth for his parents, Emma and Ian Balding, who race under the name Blue Riband Partnership. According to Andrew Balding, Middle Earth will remain in the U.S. with trainer Nick Zito and will be owned by a partnership that includes the Baldings and Tracy Farmer.

"He's a talented horse on our work track here, which is a similar surface to the dirt you guys race on," Andrew Balding said Friday from England. "He's nowhere near as effective on grass. We were keen to switch him."

Middle Earth sold for $100,000 at the 2003 Fasig-Tipton auction at Saratoga. He raced three times at 2 and twice in a five-day span last month. In his two starts at 3, Middle Earth finished second in a maiden race and was beaten a head in a handicap race Jan. 15.

"That was quite a useful horse that beat him in the maiden race, and he may have needed that race as it was his first time back off a break," Balding said. "Then he ran very well and just got [beat] in a handicap, which is a good race in England."

Balding said he believes seven furlongs, the distance of Middle Earth's last two starts, was too short for his colt.

"He wants to gallop from start to finish," Balding said. "He shouldn't have any problem staying a mile. [Two turns] should suit him."

Middle Earth must be quarantined for two days in Newburgh, N.Y. and will be stabled at Belmont sometime Monday afternoon.

A field of eight to 10 3-year-olds are expected for the Whirlaway, run at 1 1/16 miles. Galloping Grocer will be favored in a field that includes Daddy Joe, Diamond Wildcat, Lieutenant Danz, Middle Earth, Scrappy T, Sort It Out, Tani Maru, and Thievery. Interline and Naughty New Yorker are possible.

Board Elligible on holiday

Board Elligible, the stakes-winning New York-bred mare who has run 33 times the last two years, is getting a much-needed freshening on a farm in Ocala, Fla., trainer Jimmy Ferraro said.

Board Elligible, who won the Montauk Handicap in November and finished second in the Grade 3 Ladies Handicap on Dec. 18, finished last in her most recent start, the Affectionately Handicap here last month.

"After her last race we sent her down to Ocala," Ferraro said. "She's out in the sun eating grass. We'll give her six weeks off and bring her back in the middle of March. We felt this was as good a time as any to give her a break."

Turn Back the Time one to catch

Turn Back the Time went gate to wire to win an optional claiming race by one length Jan. 21. He will again be the one to catch in a similar spot in Sunday's $48,000 feature.

Turn Back the Time will face three of the same horses he beat the last time. The difference here is the race is run at 1 1/8 miles rather than 1 1/16 miles. Turn Back the Time finished fifth in his only try at 1 1/8 miles.

In his last start, Turn Back the Time made a relatively easy lead in modest fractions of 23.96 seconds and 48.93. He may not have to run that fast to make the lead in this field. Richard Migliore rides Turn Back the Time from post 2.

Loving, who chased Turn Back the Time home in that Jan. 21 race, will appreciate the added distance, as will Dawn of the Condor and Maryland shipper Penobscot Bay.