11/26/2007 12:00AM

N.Y. racing makes shift to inner

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - Less than five weeks remain in the calendar year and New York racing fans and officials alike are still anxiously awaiting a determination on who will be conducting racing on this circuit come Jan. 1. The only thing for certain is that if races are being run come New Year's Day, they will be conducted over Aqueduct's winterized inner track.

Racing shifts from the main track to the inner track Wednesday for a four-month run. The one-mile inner track season features a steady diet of six-furlong and two-turn mile and 70-yard races contested over a surface known for favoring inside posts and speed.

Turf racing will remain a viable option for as long as Mother Nature cooperates, said racing secretary P.J. Campo, who carded one turf race for Wednesday and two for Thursday.

With the onset of winter racing comes the usual migration south of some of the bigger outfits on the grounds. But while trainers Bill Mott and Shug McGaughey won't have horses stabled here this winter, Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin are bolstering their stables from a year ago. In 2006, while on suspension, Pletcher left about 12 horses here. This year, he'll have 35. McLaughlin will have 50 head here this year, about 25 percent more than a year ago. Julian Canet and David Fawkes are expected to maintain sizable winter stables here for the first time.

With NYRA lifting its limits on stable size, trainer Gary Contessa said he plans to have 90 horses split between Aqueduct and Belmont as he seeks his third consecutive inner-track crown. Bruce Levine, who has won 100 races over the last three inner-track meets, figures to be a major player again this winter.

The jockey colony may have lost some of its star power, but it will still have a deep and talented group led by Eibar Coa, Ramon Dominguez, Alan Garcia, Channing Hill, Mike Luzzi, and C.C. Lopez.

Wednesday's feature is a first-level allowance race for fillies and mares going six furlongs. McLaughlin entered both La Presse and Wild Hoots, though the latter will run in a turf race Thursday. La Presse, a daughter of Gone West, was twice a beaten favorite on turf but comes out of a race that produced next-out winners Genuine Devotion and Jibboom. She finished third in her only stakes try.

There are certainly horses for courses when it comes to the inner track and Sunset Cocktail had 2 wins and 2 seconds from 5 starts here last winter. She will be ridden by Carol Cedeno, who could be the top apprentice rider on the grounds here this winter.