03/31/2008 12:00AM

Racing shifts to main track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though racing at Aqueduct transfers from the winterized outer track to the spacious main track for four weeks beginning Wednesday, it will take a little longer for handicappers to notice the difference.

New York outfits that winter in south Florida have been slow in returning, while many are making a pit stop at Keeneland - which opens Friday - with their better stock. That leaves roughly the same horse population to tackle some different distances.

The transfer to the main track allows for more diversity in distances, evidenced by Wednesday's card, which features races at five distances. Seven-furlong races have returned, and one-mile races will now be contested around one turn.

The main track has had difficulty handling excessive moisture the past few years, prompting cancellations when the track is sloppy. John Passero, the director of racing surfaces, is hopeful there will be fewer problems this year.

"We tried to keep it a lot tighter than we used to when there's rain coming,'' Passero said. "I'm pretty confident we should be all right.''

Passero said he believes the turf course will be operational beginning Saturday, when the first turf race is expected to be carded.

There will be nine graded stakes run over the main track, highlighted by Saturday's program featuring the Grade 1 Wood Memorial for Kentucky Derby hopefuls and the Grade 1 Carter for sprinters. The Excelsior and the Bay Shore - both Grade 3 events - are also on the 11-race program.

Wednesday's feature is the $65,000 Perfect Poppy, a one-mile overnight stakes for fillies and mares. Lost Etiquette returns to New York after running eighth to champion Ginger Punch in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream on Jan. 26.

Lost Etiquette was one of those 29 horses that couldn't win going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream from post 11 or 12 before Big Brown won last Saturday's Florida Derby. In cutting back to a one-turn mile, Lost Etiquette gets the conditions at which she ran her best race last September at Belmont Park. Her stablemate, Bartola, will likely scratch.