03/16/2004 12:00AM

'Snake' gets a fresh start


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was looking forward to a productive winter at Aqueduct with Snake Mountain, who had won three inner-track stakes at the 2002-2003 meet.

Those plans fell through, however, when Snake Mountain developed an abscess in his right hind foot. When Snake Mountain failed to respond to routine treatment, he was sent in December to the New Jersey Equine Clinic and treated by Dr. Patty Hogan.

"It was a very deep bruise, and there was some infection," Hogan said. "It was pretty straightforward, but it took some time. I'm glad he is coming around. He is a great horse."

On Thursday at Aqueduct, two days before the official start of spring, is finally back in action, after 147 days away from the races. He is among five older males entered in a money allowance race, which also drew graded stakes winner Saarland. The timing of Thursday's mile race is perfect if Jerkens or Shug McGaughey, Saarland's trainer, want to run back in the $200,000 Excelsior Handicap on April 3.

"We've had some setbacks, but it looks like we have a fresh horse coming back for the spring," Jerkens said.

Before being sidelined, Snake Mountain won a Belmont Park allowance race on Oct. 24. Last year, he won three of five starts, including the Grade 3 Aqueduct and Grade 3 Stymie handicaps over Aqueduct's inner track. Two years ago, he won the Grade 3 Stuyvesant on the main track.

Richard Migliore rides Snake Mountain, who drew post 5. On Tuesday at Belmont, Snake Mountain worked a half-mile in 49.93 seconds.

Snake Mountain and Saarland will vie for the role of favorite. The one-turn mile might be a tad short for Snake Mountain, but the distance does suit Saarland, who makes his first start since November.

began his 2003 campaign in April, winning a mile race in the slop at Aqueduct. He also finished second in both the Westchester and Metropolitan Mile handicaps. Saarland ended the year by finishing sixth as the favorite in the Grade 3 Stuyvesant Handicap on Nov. 11.

John Velazquez, the leading rider at the Gulfstream Park meet, returns to New York on Thursday and rides Saarland. Saarland, who is 3-3-0 in six starts at a mile, drew post 3.

With no serious speed in the field, It's So Simple, who drew the rail, is the likely pacesetter. Act of Reform and Deeliteful Guy complete the field.