11/27/2001 1:00AM

Rich field difficult to handicap


JAMAICA, N.Y. - During a New York winter there's no such thing as a one-turn mile. With the inner-dirt track scheduled to open next week, that explains why there are five of them on Aqueduct's Thursday card.

Among them is the eighth, a $56,000 allowance for 3-year-olds and up that drew a field of eight. The field is a tough one, with well over $2 million in combined earnings, and each entrant having run in at least one graded or group stakes this year.

Yet their recent form has been spotty, or difficult to evaluate, or both. Six of them were out of the money and far up the track in their most recent starts. Several hail from barns that have been mired in meet-long slumps.

The two horses coming off wins, Franbulo and Country Only, are also difficult to get a handle on.

Franbulo has not been out since winning back-to-back Group 2 stakes under 134 pounds in Chile several months ago. He has been working nicely over the main track and is first-time Lasix for his U.S. debut, but new trainer Juan Serey, last year's New York leader with 80 wins, has managed only one in-the-money finisher from his first 19 starters this fall.

Country Only gets a switch to red-hot rider John Velazquez, who won four of the six stakes races here during the Thanksgiving weekend. Country Only comes off a front-running win in October in an optional claimer at Delaware Park, which was his best effort of the year and his first two-turn dirt start since a runner-up finish in the 2000 Illinois Derby - after which he was sidelined for eight months by knee surgery. His only other career wins came in three consecutive starts on the inner track during Aqueduct's 1999-2000 winter meet, so he is one to follow closely.

Durmiente and Dayton Flyer are members of the horse-for-the-course club at Belmont Park, where they are 5 for 7 and 4 for 8, respectively. Durmiente, idle seven weeks, has run triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last three one-turn miles, two of them wins off a layoff. But was beaten by at least 11 lengths in his last three starts on this track.

Dayton Flyer won both of his starts at Belmont's fall meet, and among his victims were Pegasus Handicap winner Volponi and Clark Handicap winner Ubiquity. But Dayton Flyer finished next-to-last here in the opening-day Discovery Handicap, and trainer Bob Barbara, like Serey, is winless with 19 Big A starters.

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