10/25/2009 11:00PM

Shift to Aqueduct marks change of season


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - On a resplendent fall morning, it was hard to fathom that winter starts Wednesday. Okay, so winter doesn't officially begin for another eight weeks, but this racing circuit's eight-mile move west from Belmont Park to Aqueduct usually signifies a change of seasons. And while Aqueduct actually spans three seasons on the calendar, it is best associated with winter.

Perhaps that's because of the seemingly interminable length of the inner-track season, which doesn't begin until Dec. 2 but lasts until the end of March. Beginning Wednesday, however, racing will be conducted for 25 days on the spacious main track, which is akin to Saratoga's 1 1/8-mile oval, but includes a chute that allows for one-turn races up to one mile in distance to be run. Also, the most underutilized turf course in the country should be put to good use over the next five weeks, or as long as Mother Nature will allow.

Of course, the forecast for Wednesday's nine-race card calls for a 60-percent chance of showers with a high of 56 degrees - the coldest day of the week.

Over the next five weeks, there will be 20 traditional stakes races conducted at Aqueduct, highlighted by the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 28. That card also includes the Grade 1 Gazelle, a race for 3-year-old fillies that for years had been run at Belmont in early September. The Remsen and Demoiselle, Grade 2 events for juveniles and juvenile fillies, respectively, are also on that day's card. On Nov. 7, the second Breeders' Cup Day card, Aqueduct will run three stakes topped by the Grade 2, $150,000 Red Smith, the last graded turf stakes of the year in New York.

The jockey colony doesn't turn over until the winter, but there will be some new faces in town earlier than usual. David Cohen, the fourth-leading rider in the country in wins and coming off a riding title at Delaware Park, begins riding here Wednesday with three mounts. Gabriel Saez, who rode regularly for trainer Larry Jones, is also trying Aqueduct for the first time. Anna Napravnik, the second-leading rider at Delaware Park, joins the colony on Nov. 11 after a productive winter meet here last year. A bevy of apprentice riders are here, including Ricardo Santana Jr., who has won 16 races at Delaware in a month; Jose Angel Garcia, who is here from Calder where he won 30 races; and Angel Serpa, who is 9 for 63 at the Meadowlands. Apprentices Jackie Davis and Amanda Casey are back again as well.

Cody Autrey and Steve Klesaris head the list of trainers not regularly stabled in New York who have taken stalls here. Autrey entered Monday's final day of racing at Delaware Park ahead of Scott Lake in the trainer standings, is scheduled to have a full complement of 36 horses here.

The feature on Wednesday's card is the $65,000 Proud Truth Stakes for 3-year-olds. The 1 1/8-mile race could be used as a prep for the Grade 3, $100,000 Discovery, also at 1 1/8 miles, on Nov. 21.

Trainer Bill Badgett sends out Retriever, who was beaten a neck in a second-level allowance race by the stakes-placed Ea just 20 days ago. Jockey Alan Garcia may have made the lead too soon in that race.

"Alan and I talked about that," trainer Bill Badgett said. "He thought he was going so easy when he did make the lead, he thought he should have been a little more aggressive with him. I'm glad the race went - it's a good spot to find out if you're good enough for the Discovery."

Trainer Derek Ryan wheels Bunker Hill back just 12 days after he won the off-the-turf Princeton Stakes at the Meadowlands on Oct. 16. He would relish a sloppy track.

"He didn't have a hard race at the Meadowlands the other day," Ryan said. "It looks like not too tough a spot. All summer long we were looking at mega-tough races when realistically he's a $70,000 stakes horse."

Denver, Bad Action, and Precursor complete the field.


Racing schedule: 39 days; Wednesday through Dec. 31. Inner track opens Dec. 2. Dark Mondays and Tuesdays, and Dec. 14-25.

Post time: 12:30 p.m. Eastern; except Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving), 11:25 a.m.; Nov. 27-28, noon.

Admission: Free.

Parking: General parking free. Valet $5.

Handicapping tournament: Aqueduct Fall Handicapping Challenge Nov. 14-15. There will be $80,000 in prize money up for grabs, based on 200 entrants. The top three finishers will be automatically eligible for the in Las Vegas on January 29-30.

Dark day simulcasting: Mondays and Tuesdays beginning Nov. 2.

Location: Exit 18B or 19 off Belt Parkway

Phone: 718 641-4700