11/16/2004 1:00AM

Old Forester needs to show Belmont form

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Funny how perception often differs from reality. With the recent root-system problems of Aqueduct's turf course, one would have expected less grass racing through the first three weeks of the meet compared to last fall, but that has not been the case. Through the first three weeks last year, 13 turf races were run, but this year the total is 19, even with last week's rain.

No matter how you slice it, grass racing is nearly at an end. This Saturday's Red Smith Handicap is the last scheduled turf stakes of the year in New York, and there won't be many more feature races like Thursday's second-level allowance on the turf.

With Thursday's forecast calling for partly sunny skies and a high temperature near 60 degrees, conditions should be as good as they get for mid-November grass racing, and a field of 10 older males will go 1 1/16 miles around The Big A's sharp-turned course. Six more were entered as also-eligibles, including two main-track-only entrants.

As handicappers look to get a line on possible turf stakes runners in Florida this coming winter, or at Belmont next spring, the key issue in this race may be whether Old Forester is the genuine article. Can the 3-year-old Forestry colt run as well at other venues as he did winning twice by a combined 14 lengths on Belmont's Widener course?

Between impressive maiden and entry-level triumphs, which earned Beyer Speed Figures of 99 and 96, were two losses at Saratoga, beginning with a third-place finish after he had the lead in the stretch but was outkicked by Catch the Glory and Settle Up.

Both of those colts are in this field.

, a stretch-runner who will break from the rail, has been first or second in five of six starts this year. He comes off a first-level allowance score at Belmont last month.

will break from post 9, but he was able to overcome post 11 and wire maidens on this course back in early spring. Prone to breaking a bit slowly, Catch the Glory drops in class after running third in the Grade 3 Saranac Handicap at Saratoga and sixth in the ungraded Paterson Stakes at The Meadowlands.

The New York-bred Certifiably Crazy, second in the A.T. Cole and the Mohawk most recently, has run first or second in nine of his 11 grass starts. He also looms a solid threat in what shapes up as a highly competitive event.